A gunman early Tuesday shot up a police cruiser parked outside an elementary school in Sanford, Fla., close to the spot where black teen Trayvon Martin was killed.
No one was injured in the incident in which six shots were fired into the empty vehicle, police said.
The startling new development came as ABC News reported that the emergency operation centers of three counties in central Florida had been elevated to Level II, the same as for an impending hurricane.
And Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplett warned that the Orlando suburb town was in danger of boiling over.
"Are we a kindling box? Sure," he said. "But we're working down a path and, so far, it's been absolutely peaceful."
The cruiser had been parked outside Bentley Elementary School for several weeks at the request of school officials, reported The Associated Press. The school is across the street from the Retreat at Twin Lakes complex where Martin was shot on Feb. 26.
The Orlando CBS affiliate, WKMG, reported at least two bullet holes were found in the car and one window was shot out.
Racial tensions continue to grow in the town more than six weeks after Martin, 17, was shot and killed as he returned to his father’s home after going out to buy Skittles and iced tea before the NBA All-Star game.
Neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman has admitted killing Martin but said it was in self-defense during a scuffle after Martin attacked him from behind, knocked him down and started to pound his head into the pavement.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott appointed a special prosecutor to the case after the local state attorney declined to charge Zimmerman. On Monday, that prosecutor, Angela Corey, said she would not be taking the case to a grand jury because she still must conclude her investigation into Martin’s death. The Orlando Sentinel interpreted that move to mean that Zimmerman will not be charged with first-degree murder because that is a charge reserved for grand jurors.
Sanford has become increasingly embroiled as civil-rights leaders including the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson have led rallies in town calling for Zimmerman, 28, to be prosecuted.
Now white supremacist groups, including neo-Nazis from the National Socialist Movement, have come to Sanford pledging to protect white people, ABC reported.
"We are not the type of white people who are going to be walked all over," Commander Jeff Schoep of the National Socialist Movement told The Miami NewTimes.
And The Rev. Terry Jones, who last year drew controversy with his plans to burn copies of the Muslim holy book, the Koran, is planning a rally in the town on April 21 to support Zimmerman.
So far, the protests have remained peaceful, which is why the shooting of the unattended police cruiser triggered alarm bells. Students marched from Daytona Beach on Monday and staged a sit-in blocking access to the town’s police station. Six huddled in the doorway expecting to be arrested, but officers ignored them and simply used a back entrance, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
Zimmerman has been in hiding since the shooting and a $10,000 bounty was placed on his head by a radical group calling itself the New Black Panthers. But friends, family and attorneys have started a push to publicize his side of the story. A new website, The RealGeorgeZimmerman.com, was launched over the weekend. The home page has a statement from the shooter superimposed on an American flag.
In the statement, Zimmerman said he was worried that people he did not know had started collecting for a defense fund for him. “I cannot attest to the validity of these other websites as I have not received any funds collected, intended to support my family and I through this trying, tragic time,” he wrote.
“I have created a Paypal account solely linked on this website as I would like to provide an avenue to thank my supporters personally and ensure that any funds provided are used only for living expenses and legal defense, in lieu of my forced inability to maintain employment. I will also personally maintain accountability of all funds received. I reassure you, every donation is appreciated.”
Central Florida’s News 13 TV station reported that the site crashed on Monday night due to “capacity problems.”
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