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Published on May 19, 2024
Atlanta Airman Mourned After Fatal Shooting by Florida DeputySource: GoFundMe

Hundreds of mourners, including a contingent of Air Force members donned in dress blues, filled New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Stonecrest on Friday to honor the life of Senior Airman Roger Fortson. The Atlanta native was fatally shot by a deputy sheriff in his Florida residence, triggering an outpouring of grief and demands for accountability. The open-casket service revealed Fortson in his Air Force attire with an American flag adorning his coffin as friends, family, and fellow servicemembers paid their respects.

Col. Patrick Dierig, presiding over a vast array of uniformed airmen, expressed his profound esteem for Fortson, admitting that, although the Air Force contributes to the making of a great airman, "the truth is that he was great before he came to us." The emotional sentiment resonated with the congregation gathered to mourn the untimely loss of the young servicemember, as reported by WABE.

Further echoing this sentiment, the Reverend Jamal Bryant compared Fortson's service to that of civil rights legend Medgar Evers, noting the harsh truth that in America, the color of one's skin often precedes the recognition of one's service. "Roger died of murder," Bryant declared, emphasizing the urgent need for justice. Acclaimed civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, speaking at the service, promised to remember Fortson for the patriot he was and assured that justice will be pursued vigorously.

The sequence of events culminating in Fortson's death began with the deputy responding to a call about a domestic disturbance on May 3. According to body camera footage, Fortson, carrying a handgun pointed towards the floor, was gunned down moments after opening his apartment door. Though sheriff's officials have argued the deputy acted in self-defense, the absence of an incident report, 911 recordings, or the deputy's identity despite open records requests, has spurred public scrutiny and skepticism. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has initiated an investigation while the officer involved has been placed on administrative leave.

Despite the demand for transparency and answers, the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office has remained tight-lipped. Meka Fortson, Roger's mother, stated her unwavering resolve in obtaining justice from Sheriff Eric Aden, "You're going to give me justice whether you want to, Sheriff Aden, or not," she told a news conference alongside Ben Crump. The family, along with Fortson’s girlfriend who was on a FaceTime call with him during the incident, refute the official account, insisting that the deputy had approached the wrong apartment in the complex, according to WABE.