Sybrina Fulton says she’ll be more careful with her choice of words from here on out. Just one day after the man who shot and killed her 17-year-old son was arrested and charged with second-degree murder, Fulton found herself on the defensive.
During an appearance Thursday morning on NBC’s Today, Fulton told Ann Curry that she believed her son Travyon Martin’s “death was an accident.’’ She added “I believed that it just got out of control and he (Zimmerman) couldn’t turn the clock back.’’
Fulton’s remarks set off an Internet and news frenzy with the mere suggestion that 28-year-old George Zimmerman may have mistakenly killed her son on February 26. The theory of an accident is in sharp contrast to what many believe happened that night to Martin as he walked home from the neighborhood store in Sanford, Florida.
“I will have to be more mindful of my words from now on,’’ Fulton tells The Daily Beast. “I’m not used to being under the microscope every day like this. George Zimmerman stalked and killed my son that night. I’m not confused about what happened to my child.’’
Zimmerman, a neighborhood-watch volunteer, claimed self defense immediately after the shooting death of the unarmed African American teenager. Martin was walking home with Skittles and iced tea in a gated community when Zimmerman deemed him suspicious and began to follow him. He called the Sanford police to report Martin, and minutes later Martin lay dead on the sidewalk from a gunshot wound to his chest.
Fulton explains that she was only offering additional insight into a comment Travyon’s father Tracy made on Today. “Tracy told the reporter that if Trayvon had been a minute earlier walking home or Zimmerman a minute later, this would have never happened. I just meant it was an accident they ever met in the first place. It wasn’t supposed to be. If Zimmerman had stayed in his car that night, they wouldn’t have met. If he’d just minded his own business, this would not have happened.’’
Realizing the impact and implication of her early-morning comments, lawyers for the Martin family released a statement mid-morning clarifying what they say the emotionally drained and physically exhausted mother actually meant during the interview.
“Sybrina was worried about how what she said would be taken right after she said it,’’ said family lawyer Benjamin Crump. “I told her not to worry because it wasn’t that bad or at least I didn’t think so. I was wrong. I didn’t know where people would take that one statement, particularly when they know Travyon’s mother was not there when her son was killed.’’
Within minutes of the interview airing, Crump says his law offices were flooded with hundreds of calls asking for more details on the supposed “accidental shooting” of Martin. “We thought people would understand that these two parents have not had a moment’s rest since their child’s death,’’ Crump said. “She’s had three hours of sleep over the last few days. She’s had to do endless interviews and personal appearances just to get her child justice. Give her a break.’’
With the arrest of Zimmerman and his arraignment set for May 29, Crump says he expects both parents to retreat from the public spotlight over the next week or so and begin to privately grieve their loss as a family. “We have one or two media events we have to do next week and then they are going to let the legal system run its course,’’ Crump says. “They’ve done all they could to see this through.’’
“I’m very tired,’’ Fulton says. “But Trayvon isn’t here anymore, so his father and I have to stand up for him and fight for him and what he deserves.”
Clinical psychologist Gail Wyatt thinks Fulton is doing amazingly well to have survived the last six weeks of heartache and intense media scrutiny without a few missteps and lapses of thought. “This woman is more than likely suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome,’’ says Wyatt, a professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA. “That happens when you suffer the loss of a child and in such a sudden way. The fact that she’s been able to keep going like this for so long is incredible. She’s probably numb from the pain at this point and on auto-pilot going from interview to interview…. The fact that she couldn’t just grieve the death of her son immediately is devastating. How she’s still standing I’m not sure.’’
Wyatt added that both parents, and in particularly Fulton, are in great need of rest to clear their minds and process the overwhelming sadness that accompanies a child’s death.
Fulton’s voice indeed sounds weary during her phone interview with The Daily Beast, and she readily admits running on nothing but fumes since the day she learned her youngest son was dead from a gunshot wound.
“I’m very tired,’’ Fulton says. “But Trayvon isn’t here anymore, so his father and I have to stand up for him and fight for him and what he deserves. That’s where any small part of my peace will come from. We are his parents and we have to do it no matter how tired we are now or will be later.’’