US Airman Roger Fortson laid to rest: 'Warrior with a kind heart' (2024)

Senior Airman Roger Fortson had three amazing traits, according to Commander 1st Special Operations Wing Patrick Dierig.

He lived and breathed the Air Force core values of service, integrity and excellence. But Dierig said Fortson didn't take on these lessons from the military. His family and community "forged" him to be a "diamond," before he even entered the Air Force in 2019.

Fortson was the personification of honor, selflessness and professionalism, and the traits that went beyond combat to create a great person, Dierig said at his funeral in Stonecrest, Georgia on Friday.

Fortson was shot six times on May 3 by a Florida sheriff's deputy who allegedly responded to the wrong apartment for a disturbance call, according to civil rights attorney Ben Crump. Okaloosa Sheriff's officials dispute this claim and provided a different narrative of how the shooting unfolded.

"Your Air Force family is grieving with you," Dierig said. "As you can see in the sea of blue, I'm not alone in my admiration of Senior Airman Fortson... He will remain in our Air Force hearts forever."

US Airman Roger Fortson laid to rest: 'Warrior with a kind heart' (1)

As a gospel choir sang "Everlasting Life" and scripture passages of "love and support" were shared inside the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, the community gathered to honor Fortson.

A line extended beyond the Stonecrest church's doors as hundreds of mourners turned out to pay their respects. Over 1,600 people watched the two-hour service on YouTube. Pastor Jamal Bryant said the funeral was streamed globally at all Air Force bases.

Fortson's body laid in an open casket for the community to view. An American flag draped the coffin in military honor tradition.

A section of the church was filled with military personnel honoring Fortson.

The deadly shooting

A deputy responding to a disturbance call "reacted in self-defense after he encountered a 23-year-old man armed with a gun," the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office said in a news release.

Forston, who was from Atlanta, was at his off-base apartment on Racetrack Road when the shooting happened around 4:30 p.m. Fortson was taken to the hospital, where he died.

US Airman Roger Fortson laid to rest: 'Warrior with a kind heart' (2)

In bodycam video, the deputy is seen in the apartment complex on Racetrack Road asking, "What's going on."

He asked if a "fight is going on or something." He meets with a woman who said fighting happens "frequently but this time it was sounding like it was getting out of hand."

When the officer asked what door, the woman said, "I'm not sure." She later says apartment 1401 - which was Fortson's apartment number.

Crump played the police radio audio for the audience Thursday at a press conference. The dispatch officer was not able to provide information beyond that the incident involved a male and female.

"They said it was a domestic dispute between a male and a female, so they had to have had the wrong apartment," Crump said Friday. "If he can't be safe in his own home, where can he be safe then?"

US Airman Roger Fortson laid to rest: 'Warrior with a kind heart' (3)

Sheriff's records show another unit in the apartment complex, 1412, has had repeated domestic calls, several welfare checks and an EMS call for a "hemorrhage," as reported by the Miami Herald. Deputies were called to the 1412 apartment 10 times since August 2023.

"In America, before people see you as a veteran, as an Airman in the United States Air Force, they'll see you as a Black man," Bryant said. "Wearing a uniform doesn't make you safe against the malefactions of bigotry. Wearing a uniform does not give you a restraining order against white supremacy. When you are Black even other people who wear uniforms for a living will assume you are a threat to their life."

Okaloosa Sheriff Eric Aden called Crump's claims that the deputy entered the wrong apartment false.

"We will never let them stain the reputation of Roger Fortson, not today, not tomorrow, not forever," Crump said Friday. "We will remember him as the true American patriot that he was."

While the officer was entering Fortson's apartment complex, Fortson was on Facetime with his girlfriend and alone. Fortson had grabbed his gun, which he legally owned, when he heard banging at his door.

"If George Zimmerman had a right to carry a gun, then Roger had a right. If Kyle Rittenhouse had a right to carry a gun, then Roger had a right. If Dylann Roof had a right, then Roger had a right," Bryant said. "We got to be able to defend the rights of those who love America, pledge allegiance to the flag."

After a barrage of bullets, Fortson hits the ground and was eventually taken to a local hospital, where he died.

Fortson's dog, Chloe, was with Fortson in his apartment and witnessed the shooting.

"Roger was better to America than America was to Roger. We owe him a debt of gratitude and a debt of thanksgiving," Bryant said. "We ain't alright. This is not right what has happened. This is the land of the free and the home of the brave."

Who was Roger Fortson?

Dozens of mourners spoke about Fortson, his accomplishments and the type of person he was during Friday's funeral. They remembered his laugh, his dedication, and how he was the type of man to give his all but still crack a joke.

They gave a standing ovation for a "man that stood for something" during Bryant's eulogy.

"Roger was light," Crump said. "There would not be a stain on his name. He would not be put to rest in darkness because he was a bright light."

Fortson was assigned to the 4th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla., according to the Air Force. He entered active duty on Nov. 19, 2019.

US Airman Roger Fortson laid to rest: 'Warrior with a kind heart' (4)

He was a combat veteran, taking part in a special operations mission in Syria, according to Dierig. Fortson was awarded the Air Medal with a Combat Device in 2023.

"He was a warrior with a kind heart," Dierig said. "He was respected as an Airman. He was loved as a person, and we will never forget him."

He was always "so happy," his older sister Raven said at the funeral.

"I thought Roger was the coolest person in the world," she said. "I was so proud of my brother... I'm never going to shut up about Roger, about who he was, the kind of man he was."

Fortson was humble. In 23 years, she said her brother did more than some 60-year-olds.

"He was supposed to have a million more accomplishments," she said.

Dr. Loukisha Walker, former principal of McNair High School in Dekalb County, described Fortson as one of her "gifted students."

"He was an amazing young man," Walker said. "I know he made his mom proud. She was proud of the man he became."

Read more

  • 'Tell the truth': Lawyers for US airman killed by FL deputy call for action
  • Who is Roger Fortson? US airman killed by Florida sheriff's officer
  • He 'Should Be Here': Roger Fortson's family speaks out at airman's wake

Marcus Salter, Fortson's baseball coach in high school, talked about the leadership and growth the young man had throughout his four years on the team.

"He put the team's success above his own, demonstrating a level of maturity and heart that encouraged everyone around him," Salter said, adding his nephew joined the military after a conversation with Fortson. "Roger was full of love and that memory I will forever have in my heart."

Growing up, Fortson saved money to take his younger sister to her first theme park. He would Door Dash food home to his siblings while he was out of state if they said they were hungry.

"That's the special person he was," Crump said. "That's why we can't have a stain on his reputation... The truth was that Roger Fortson was the best of us. He the very best America had to offer the world. He was an American patriot, and we have to remember him as such."

Cousins Brequita and Ricquita Fortson described the 23-year-old as "completely chill who would never bother anybody." The two shared a poem they wrote.

"I will forever cherish every moment with you," they said. "It's not fair."

US Airman Roger Fortson laid to rest: 'Warrior with a kind heart' (5)

The Congressional Black Caucus released a statement in support of the "pursuit for justice."

"It is particularly powerful that this group of representatives is calling on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to release their investigation findings," the statement said. "With so many eyes on this case and investigation, we can't - we won't - stop fighting for justice for Roger."

Tributes have appeared at Fortson's former apartment door. The small shrine includes flowers, candles, combat boots, an American flag, and a long wooden plank anchored by two sets of aviator wings and words of prayers and remembrances for Fortson.

"It is the right thing to do that we stand up for justice for Roger Fortson," Crump said. "It is the right thing to do that we speak up for justice for Roger Fortson. It is the right thing to do that we fight for justice for Roger Fortson. We fight for the dignity of Roger Fortson. We fight for the respect of Roger Fortson. We fight for the humanity of Roger Fortson because Roger Fortson was the best of us."

Uncommon Knowledge

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

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US Airman Roger Fortson laid to rest: 'Warrior with a kind heart' (2024)
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