US Airman Roger Fortson, killed by deputy in his own home, honored at funeral

ATLANTA — Dozens of Air Force members came together at a suburban Atlanta church Friday with the family and friends of Senior Airman Roger Fortson to honor the serviceman, who was shot and killed in his Florida home by a sheriff’s deputy on May 3.

Fortson, 23, was in his home in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, when he was shot by an Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office deputy, according to law enforcement authorities.

At Friday's service, Fortson was laid out wearing his Air Force uniform and his coffin was draped with the American flag.

“As you can see from the sea of Air Force blue, I am not alone in my admiration of Senior Airman Fortson,” Col. Patrick Dierig told mourners at the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Stonecrest, referring to the many service members in attendance who paid their respects to Fortson.

"We would love to take credit for making him great, but the truth is he was great before he came to us," said Dierig, the commander of First Special Operations Wing Hurlburt Field, where Fortson was stationed. "The Air Force, we merely polished a diamond that you forged. Senior Airman Fortson was a combat veteran. He answered the nation's call to take the fight to our enemies over the skies of Iraq, Syria. He took part in Special Operations missions, taking care of U.S. national security impact, and for the efforts he was awarded the Air Medal with a combat device in 2023."

The Rev. Jamal Bryant’s eulogy included a story about civil rights icon Medgar Evers and Evers’ Army service during World War II.

Bryant also referred to Fortson’s killing as “murder.”

“We’ve got to call it what it is: It was murder,” Bryant said. “He died of stone-cold murder. And somebody has got to be held accountable. Roger was better to America than America was to Roger.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton, in a recorded video played at the service, highlighted Fortson’s military service and called for his death to not go unpunished.

"He, as a young black man, stood up, signed up to fight for this country. The question now is: ‘Will the country stand up and fight for him?’" Sharpton said. "The family, the mother, brokenhearted. Do we have, though, a broken system? That is the question. And that is what we intend to get an answer to."

After the service, airmen saluted as Fortson’s casket was carried to a horse-drawn carriage and led away from the church.

The deputy in the fatal incident was responding to a call of a disturbance around 4:30 p.m., according to a released statement from the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff Eric Aden of the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office played the body camera footage of the deputy who shot Fortson in a press conference last week following a news conference with Fortson's family. In the video the deputy can be heard announcing twice that he is with the sheriff's office. Fortson can then be seen opening the door for the deputy with what appears to be a gun in his hand. The officer shot Fortson within seconds of the door opening. Fortson later succumbed to his injuries, according to the sheriff's office.

"Hearing sounds of a disturbance, he reacted in self-defense after he encountered a 23-year-old man armed with a gun,” according to a sheriff’s office statement. "[This was] after the deputy had identified himself as law enforcement."

The deputy involved has been put on administrative leave and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and the state attorney’s office will conduct their own investigations, according to the sheriff’s office.

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