Roger Fortson: Air Force honors Atlanta airman killed by Florida deputy

Hundreds of friends, family and teammates gather for Senior Airman Roger Fortson’s funeral service at Hurlburt Field, Florida. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Alex Stephens)

Hundreds of members of the United States Air Force came together on Monday to honor the life of fallen Senior Airman Roger Fortson.

Fortson, a 23-year-old active-duty senior airman, was fatally shot by a Florida sheriff’s deputy on May 3. The Atlanta native, who enlisted in the military after graduating from high school with honors, had no criminal record, according to Crump's office. He was recognized as a stellar member of the Air Force and was well-loved by his community.

Three days after his funeral, Fortson's family, his commanders, and fellow airmen gathered on Hulburt Field in Florida to pay their respects, saying that his dedication to service would not be forgotten.

Senior Airman Ayanna Dickerson, 1st Special Operations Munitions Squadron aircraft armament systems technician, embraces Senior Airman Roger Fortson’s mother after singing the national anthem during a memorial service, Hurlburt Field, Florida, May 20

Air and Spaces Force reports that the airmen remember Fortson as a man overflowing with kindness and confidence.

"It could be 125 degrees pre-flighting a plane in the sun, or maybe a really hard loss to Roger in a game of cards," Senior Airman Collin Courtney said. "Rod [Roger’s nickname] would always look at you and hit you with his famous one-liner: ‘Hey, that’s showbiz, baby.’ And you couldn’t help but crack a smile and laugh."

While not at work, his fellow servicemen described Fortson as a person who could make anybody laugh without even trying and who had a strong loyalty and love for his family.

"Roger came to us as a great man," Lt. Col. Joshua Stoley, chaplain for the 1st Special Operations Wing, said to the fallen serviceman's mother. "This is not something the Air Force did, we can’t take credit for that," he said. "He came to us as a great man because you raised him to be a great man."

Deputy kills Roger Fortson in Florida

On the day he was killed, Fortson opened the door while holding a handgun pointed toward the floor, according to the deputy’s body camera footage. The deputy shouted, "Step back!" and then shot Fortson six times. Only afterward did he shout, "Drop the gun! Drop the gun!" The deputy then called paramedics on his radio.

Fortson’s family and Crump argue that the shooting was completely unjustified and that the deputy had gone to the wrong apartment while responding to a call about a possible domestic disturbance in progress at the apartment complex. Fortson was home alone and talking to his girlfriend on FaceTime when he grabbed his gun because he heard someone outside his unit, Crump has said.

The deputy, whose name has not been released, shot Fortson within moments of the airman responding to the deputy’s knocking and opening his door. Sheriff’s officials say the deputy acted in self-defense.

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.

Roger Fortson's family demands justice

Last week, Fortson’s mother vowed to get justice for her son. At a news conference held by the family and civil rights attorney Ben Crump, 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.

She said they will not stop fighting for him as they deal with the grief. 

"Roger was light, there will not be a stain on his name," Meka said. "He will not be put to rest in darkness because he was light." 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.