(Reuters) - President Barack Obama weighed into the controversial killing in Florida of black teenager Trayvon Martin for the first time on Friday, pledging to "get to the bottom" of the shooting and telling the parents "if I had a son he'd look like Trayvon."
The 17-year-old was shot dead by a neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, 28, on February 26. Zimmerman, a white Hispanic, has said he shot the unarmed teen in self-defense.
The case has made headlines and prompted rallies protesting the police's handling of the shooting and what black leaders call a pattern of racial discrimination in the Florida town of Sanford and elsewhere in a country that now has a black president.
Obama called the shooting a "tragedy" that should touch every parent in America and said it made him think of his two young daughters, Malia and Sasha.
"My main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin. You know, if I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon. I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves and that we are going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened."
He was responding to a reporter's question at a White House event to announce his nomination for the presidency of the World Bank.
Obama said he did not want to comment on the specifics of the Martin case, but "I can only imagine what these parents are going through."
"I think all of us have to do some soul-searching to investigate how something like this happened. And that means we examine, the laws, the context, what happened, as well as the specifics of the incident."
(Reporting By Ross Colvin; editing by Christopher Wilson)