President Obama has promised a full investigation into the killing of Trayvon Martin, saying Friday, "If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.
“And I think [Trayvon’s parents] are right to expect all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness that it deserves and that we’re going to get to the bottom of what happened,” Obama said in response to a reporter's question.
The remarks represented the the first time Obama has waded into the controversy surrounding Martin, an unarmed Florida teenager killed weeks ago by a self-identified volunteer neighborhood watchman. The killing has sparked protests around the country and a nationwide debate over race.
“Obviously this is a tragedy; I can only imagine what these parents are going through,” he continued. “I think all of us have to do some soul-searching to figure out, how does something like this happen?"
Martin was killed on Feb. 26 by George Zimmerman, who told police he was acting in self-defense. Martin was carrying only Skittles candies and a can of iced tea when he was shot.
Just prior to the shooting, Zimmerman called 911 to report what he said was suspicious behavior on behalf of Martin. Zimmerman then began to follow Martin, despite the emergency dispatcher telling him not to do so.
Police questioned Zimmerman but did not arrest him. A Florida state law known as the "stand your ground" law permits citizens to use deadly force when acting in self-defense, but a grand jury is being called to investigate the incident.
Martin’s death has provoked protests and intense media focus, and on Monday students across Florida held rallies calling for Zimmerman’s arrest. On Wednesday protesters in New York City held a “million hoodie march” in honor of the teen, whom many believe was targeted because of his skin color and clothing.
The Department of Justice also has stepped in to investigate the shooting, and the Sanford, Fla., chief of police has stepped down.
But until Friday, Obama had made no public remarks about the case. “I am glad that not only is the Justice Department looking into this, but the governor of the state of Florida has put together a task force,” Obama said at the Rose Garden.
Obama has been cautious about handling racial issues, particularly since 2009 comments criticizing police for arresting Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates provoked an uproar and led to the first "beer summit" at the White House.
But it would have been increasingly awkward for the nation's first black president to not address the topic, given the growing attention to the case.
At the White House on Friday, press secretary Jay Carney said the Martin story "has been a major news story, as you know," and said Obama "was prepared to answer a question if he were to get one."
"Obviously, he is aware of it, was aware of it and has thought about it," Carney said.
He then said Obama answering the question "was inevitable" given the high-profile nature of this story.
Carney said he didn't know if Obama had reached out to Martin's parents.
"I don't have any information in that regard, no," he said.
The spokesman said Obama "clearly has some thoughts about it as a parent and expressed those to you today," adding that he didn't want to elaborate because he the president spoke "eloquently" about it.
"The president believes this is a tragedy," Carney said. "That's an observation that is broadly and widely shared."
Carney would not say if the Justice Department was too slow to move on the Martin case.
"I would refer your question to the Justice Department," on their procedures, Carney said. "I just don't have a comment on that."
Carney said he's not aware of Obama listening to the 9-1-1 tapes.
Carney on Tuesday had said the administration wouldn't wade into a local investigation.
—This story was posted at 10:21 a.m. and was updated at 1:10 p.m.
Amie Parnes contributed to this story.