ORLANDO, Fla. (MCT) — Tracy Martin drives a truck for a living, but his son preferred something with two wheels.
“Trayvon loved riding on the motorcycle with me,” Martin recalls. He had been teaching his son to ride, but while returning home to Miami Gardens, Trayvon asked to test his highway skills for the first time on Florida’s Turnpike.
“He just kept telling me, ‘I can drive, I can drive,’ ” Martin said.
Though they weren’t far from home, Martin had trepidations. But he decided Trayvon was ready. “I relaxed and let him do his thing. He surprised me.”
It was a proud moment for Martin, Trayvon taking another step toward adulthood. Three weeks later, his son was dead. Martin now clings to those memories.
“It’s moments like that that the public doesn’t know,” said Martin, 45. “Those were the kinds of things that I look back on and I can smile.”
Martin spoke with the Orlando Sentinel last week from Birmingham, Ala., where he; Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, 46; and family attorney Benjamin Crump attended a march in the slain teen’s honor.
The couple, who divorced in 1999, are now facing a media firestorm together while also coping with every parent’s worst nightmare: the loss of a child.
Though they split when he was just 4 years old, Trayvon’s parents have been inseparable since his death, making virtually all of their public and media appearances together.
Martin said they remained friends after the divorce, recognizing their son needed both parents. But Trayvon’s shooting death in late February at the hands of an armed neighborhood watch volunteer “has brought us closer,” he said.
More than ever, “we need to lean on each other. We know we need each other to get us through this.”
Before all of the media and public attention, the death of Trayvon went largely unnoticed locally. Then, Tracy Martin — a Miami native who has been a driver for Sysco Corp. for more than a decade — reached out to his sister-in-law, who is a lawyer.
She got in touch with Crump, a Tallahassee attorney who now represents the Martin family. Crump said that, at his first meeting with Tracy Martin, the teen’s father was “a defeated man.”
“It was really the hopelessness in his eyes,” Crump said.
The overwhelming support at rallies and protests has given Martin and Fulton hope, Crump said.
Martin still breaks down describing the day he found out about his son’s death, but Crump said the despondency of that first meeting has only returned once.
“The only real time that I saw that look of hopelessness on Tracy was at (shooter George Zimmerman’s) bond hearing” last month, Crump said.
As Zimmerman, in a shocking development, took the witness stand and delivered an apology to Trayvon’s parents, Martin was distraught, Crump recalled. Martin and Fulton left the hearing together without commenting on Zimmerman’s remarks.
Several family friends who have spoken publicly since the shooting detailed Martin’s relationship with his son and his presence in Trayvon’s life — taking him fishing and attending football games and practices.
“Just seeing your child grow up in general is very important,” Martin said. “That was real important to me.”
Martin often tells this story: In 2004, Trayvon rescued him from a house fire after he fell asleep while food was cooking on the stove. Without Trayvon’s help, he says, he would have died. But the close bond with Trayvon that others have described began long before that, he said.
“Trayvon has been, so to speak, my best friend since the time he could walk,” Martin said.
Alicia Stanley, whom Martin married in 2005, said it was always apparent to her that Martin and Trayvon “were the best of friends.”
“He is a very good father,” Stanley told the Sentinel. She said she and Martin split up just weeks before Trayvon’s death.
Stanley said Trayvon was like a son to her, too. Martin, she said, is “a good person; he’s very kindhearted. That’s the way his son was, too.”
Martin is “trying to get justice for our son,” Stanley said. “He’s not going to rest until he gets it.”
Everything changed for Tracy Martin on Feb. 26 in Sanford. He and Trayvon were staying with his girlfriend, Brandy Green, in the Retreat at Twin Lakes gated community.
When Tracy Martin and Green returned home that night, he said, Trayvon wasn’t there.
The elder Martin said he called his son’s cellphone, but it went to voicemail. He remembered Trayvon had made plans to see a movie with a family member and thought, “Maybe they are in the movie, and they turned their phones off.”
He went to sleep that night, he said, trusting his son would return. The next morning, as he grew more worried, Martin called law enforcement and asked to file a missing-persons report.
Still, “I just knew that Trayvon’s going to be coming home with an excuse,” he said. “It was unusual for my kid not to come home, not to be answering his phone and not to call me.”
A Sanford police detective arrived. Tracy Martin showed him a photo of his son, and the detective retrieved a folder from an unmarked car.
They went inside Green’s home, and the detective revealed the folder’s contents, Martin said.
“They showed me a picture, and it was my son, laying on the ground dead.”