(CNN) – As the nation turned its eye to the killing of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teenager shot last month in Florida, presidential candidates and President Barack Obama on Friday weighed in on a story dominated by race and questions over local law enforcement tactics.
"When I think about this boy I think about my own kids,” Obama told reporters at the White House. “And I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this and that everybody pulls together – federal, state and local - to figure out exactly how this tragedy happened.”
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"You know, if I had a son he would look like Trayvon," said Obama.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, appearing on a nationally syndicated radio program hosted by Sean Hannity, called Obama's remarks "disgraceful."
"It's not a question of who that young man looked like. Any young American of any ethnic background should be safe, period," Gingrich said. "We should all be horrified no matter what the ethnic background. Is the president suggesting that if it had been a white who had been shot that would be ok because it didn't look like him?"
In comments earlier Friday, Gingrich focused on the alleged shooter, George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who claims he shot Martin in self-defense.
While campaigning in Louisiana, Gingrich described Zimmerman as "a guy who found a hobby that is very dangerous" and said he "was clearly overreaching" his watch responsibilities.
"I suspect that justice will be done and I think it is a tragedy. In that sense you have to understand how much of a tragedy it is for the family and for the young man involved," Gingrich said.
Mitt Romney, also in Louisiana, said the incident "is a terrible tragedy."
"Unnecessary. Uncalled for. And inexplicable at this point," Romney said. "We hope that justice is done in this case, as in all cases. But very, very tragic. And our hearts go out to his family, his loved ones, his friends. This shouldn't have happened."
Martin's death has rippled into a national uproar, with more than 1.3 million people having signed an online petition urging authorities to file criminal charges against Zimmerman.
Rick Santorum told reporters on Friday that Zimmerman's actions looked starkly different from those protected by "stand your ground" laws.
"It's a horrible case, I mean it's chilling to hear what happened. And of course the fact that law enforcement didn't immediately go after and prosecute this case is another chilling example of horrible decisions made in this process," Santorum said.