WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama spoke in unusually personal terms today about the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager in Central Florida, a case that has roiled civil-rights activists and the community.
"If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," Obama said, vowing to "get to the bottom of what happened."
Obama expressed sympathy for the parents of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was shot Feb. 26 in Sanford by a neighborhood watch volunteer who said he was acting in self-defense.
"I can only imagine what these parents are going through, and when I think about this boy, I think about my own kids," Obama said, calling the case a "tragedy."
The nation's first black president aimed his message at Martin's parents, saying: "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon. I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans take this with the seriousness that it deserves, and we're going to get to the bottom of what happened."
Obama said that "every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this and everybody pulls together, federal state and local, to figure out exactly how this tragedy happened."
"What happened to Trayvon Martin is a tragedy. There needs to be a thorough investigation that reassures the public that justice is carried out with impartiality and integrity."
The Justice Department and FBI have opened a civil rights investigation, and a grand jury is considering whether to charge George Zimmerman, who acknowledged shooting the teen but said it was in self-defense.
Martin's parents, civil rights activists and others who have rallied to the cause say they won't be satisfied until Zimmerman is arrested.
Police Chief Bill Lee stepped down temporarily this week to try to cool the building anger that his department had not arrested Zimmerman. Hours later, Gov. Rick Scott announced that the local state attorney, Norman Wolfinger, had recused himself from the case in hopes of "toning down the rhetoric" surrounding it.
Obama cautioned before speaking that he must "be careful so we're not impairing any investigation." But he said he was glad the Justice Department was investigating and that Florida officials had formed the task force.
"I think all of us have to do some soul searching to figure out how did something like this happen, and that means we examine the laws and the context for what happened as well as the specifics of the incident," Obama said.
Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney weighed in after Obama spoke, saying: "What happened to Trayvon Martin is a tragedy. There needs to be a thorough investigation that reassures the public that justice is carried out with impartiality and integrity."Copyright © 2015, RedEye