Airmen Pack Church for Roger Fortson's Funeral

Senior airman was killed in his home by Florida deputy
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 17, 2024 12:57 PM CDT
Hundreds of Airmen Attend Fortson Funeral
A mourner holds a funeral program near the casket of slain airman Roger Fortson during his funeral at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, Friday, May 17, 2024, near Atlanta.   (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Hundreds of Air Force members in dress blues joined Roger Fortson's family, friends, and others at a suburban Atlanta megachurch on Friday to pay their final respects to the Black senior airman, who was shot and killed in his Florida home earlier this month by a sheriff's deputy. "As you can see from the sea of blue in front of me, I am not alone in my admiration of Senior Airman Fortson," Col. Patrick Dierig told mourners. "We would like to take credit for making him great, but the truth is that he was great before he came to us," said Dierig, the commander of the 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Air Force Base in Florida. "He will live in our Air Force hearts forever." More, from the AP:

  • Fortson, 23, grew up in the Atlanta area before joining the Air Force. He was a senior airman who served in overseas combat zones and was stationed at Hurlburt when the deputy killed him. His sister Raven Fortson spoke fondly of her brother, but bemoaned how his life was cut short. "I thought Roger was the coolest person in the world. He was supposed to have a million more accomplishments," she said.

  • The funeral came a day after Fortson's mother vowed to get justice for her son. Meka Fortson spoke glowingly about how her son had always stayed on a positive path and had never been in trouble or shown signs of violence. She also had a message for Okaloosa County Sheriff Eric Aden: "You're going to give me justice whether you want to, Sheriff Aden, or not," she said.
  • The deputy, whose name has not been released, shot Fortson six times within moments of Fortson responding to the deputy's knocking. Fortson opening the door of his apartment while holding a handgun pointed at the ground.
  • Sheriff's officials say the deputy acted in self-defense while responding to a call about a possible domestic disturbance in progress at the apartment complex. The Fortson family and lawyer Ben Crump, though, argue that the shooting was completely unjustified, saying Roger Fortson was home alone at the time FaceTiming with his girlfriend and that the deputy had gone to the wrong unit.
  • Two weeks after the shooting, the sheriff has yet to release an incident report, any 911 records or the officer's identity, despite requests for the information under Florida's open records act. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating and the deputy has been placed on administrative leave.

In 2020, the top enlisted leader of the Air Force went public with his fear of waking up to the news that a Black airman had been killed by a white police officer. He says Fortson's death has left him wondering if things will ever change. "I doubt if that police officer knew or cared that Roger was an airman. What he saw was a young, Black male," retired Chief Master Sgt. Kaleth O. Wright told the AP in an interview Wednesday. (More police shooting stories.)

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