The online auction of the firearm George Zimmerman used in 2012 to kill Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, appeared to have been hijacked by trolls and pranksters as the website hosting the event showed that bids had reached more than $65 million.
A top bidder on the United Gun Group website, where the auction had been posted since Thursday afternoon, used the screen name "Racist McShootface," though it was later deleted, the Associated Press reported.
Other bidder screen names included "Donald Trump" and "Tamir Rice," the name of a black 12-year-old boy who was shot and killed by the Cleveland police in 2014 while playing with a pellet gun.
By 9 a.m. Eastern on Friday, Zimmerman's auction showed 1,109 bids on the gun — a 9-mm Kel-Tec PF-9 pistol — with the last bidder's name listed as "Craig Bryant" and the current price set at $65,039,000. The auction ends in about five days, the website showed.
Bidding on the pistol began at $5,000 on Thursday around noon, but the bidders' identities have been questioned as the United Gun Group site has been criticized online for capitalizing on a child's murder. The site has defended itself as a neutral marketplace.
The announcement of the sale by Zimmerman, a former neighborhood watch volunteer who was acquitted of murder charges in the killing of Martin, 17, in Sanford, Florida, set off a torrent of denunciations and reinvigorated national scrutiny of the case.
Initial efforts to sell the gun fizzled. A listing for the weapon first appeared on the auction website gunbroker.com, but it was removed, replaced by a note that said, "Sorry, but the item you have requested is no longer in the system."
The sale was then transferred to United Gun Group's website, which describes itself on its Twitter account as "the fastest-growing social marketplace dedicated to the firearms community."
United Gun Group had initially advertised the sale of the gun at gunbroker.com on its own Twitter account, and later hosted the auction.
For Zimmerman, 32, the announcement of the sale was the latest act that has attracted national scrutiny and outrage, including his retweeting of an image of Martin's corpse. He said that the firearm had recently been returned to him by the Justice Department and that he hoped to use some of the proceeds to fight violence against law enforcement officers by members of Black Lives Matter; to ensure "the demise" of the career of Angela Corey, the prosecutor who put him on trial; and to counter Hillary Clinton's "anti-firearm rhetoric."
Benjamin L. Crump, a lawyer for Martin's parents, said the family was appalled.
"It's insulting," Crump said. "To everybody else — the public, the media — it's a hashtag, it's a cause, it's a news story. To them, that's their child."