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‘He was my gift’: DeKalb mother mourns airman killed by Florida deputy

Police car lights (Alexandru Cuznetov/Dreamstime/TNS)

Atlanta native Roger Fortson enlisted in the U.S. Air Force after high school, eager to serve his country and lay the groundwork for a successful life.

But after his most recent deployment abroad, the decorated senior airman was shot and killed by a deputy in his Florida home, leaving his grieving family to mourn a uniquely painful loss on Memorial Day.

Fortson’s loved ones said the 23-year-old’s death left a massive void in their lives, one that can never be filled.

“As soon as we catch our breath, we’re reminded that he’s not here,” his mother, Meka Fortson, said through tears. ”He was my gift.”

Roger Fortson was killed May 3 by an Okaloosa County, Florida, deputy responding to what authorities said was a call about domestic disturbance at Fortson’s apartment complex, not far from his air base.

The airman’s shooting received national attention and reignited the debate about police treatment of Black people in the U.S.

Fortson’s mom described him as respectful, hard-working and selfless, someone who went out of his way to help others every chance he got. She can’t bring herself to watch the body camera footage of her son’s final moments.

She’s trying her best to stay strong for her four other children, especially 10-year-old Harmoni, who had a special relationship with her older brother.

“Roger adored her and would have done anything for his little sister,” said family friend Asya Goode.

When Fortson couldn’t make it to Harmoni’s birthday last year because he was deployed to Kuwait, he sent a “pamper bus” to DeKalb County so she and her friends could get their nails done.

Though he was stationed in Florida, Goode said Fortson drove back to Atlanta every chance he got. Last October he came home, picked up his family and headed right back to Florida so he could treat them all to a vacation at Disney World.

The getaway was among Goode’s fonder memories of Fortson, who she said was “the brother I always wanted.”

He had planned to return to Georgia on May 4 to help Goode move to a new apartment in Smyrna, she said, but the McNair High School graduate never made it home.

“It still doesn’t feel real,” Goode said. “He should be here.”

Loved ones said Fortson had planned to leave the military and move back to Atlanta and attend college. He hoped to study nursing and was looking into which school would be best.

Body camera footage of the shooting showed Fortson was holding a gun in his right hand when he answered his door, but the weapon was by his side and pointed at the ground when the deputy opened fire.

Fortson was home alone with his dog, Chloe, at the time. His family contends the deputy came to the wrong apartment, and that Fortson would have put his gun down had he been given the chance.

Meka Fortson also noted that her son was left-handed.

Thinking about her son lying in the foyer of his apartment and wondering what went through his mind after the deputy fired those six shots leaves her furious.

“You thought he was a nobody,” she said.

The deputy who shot him is on paid leave pending an investigation into the fatal police shooting, Meka Fortson said. But it angers her to picture him spending time with his own children while she’ll never hold her son again.

“He needs to be held accountable,” Meka Fortson said. “Paid leave? He’s basically on vacation. While I was planning a funeral. While I was receiving my baby’s body from the airport.”

About 300 servicemembers wearing their formal “dress blues” attended Fortson’s funeral in DeKalb earlier this month. Some of his Air Force colleagues choked back tears as they watched Meka Fortson cry over her son’s flag-draped casket.

Col. Patrick Dierig, commander of the 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field in Florida, told those in attendance that Fortson exemplified the values of an airman.

“Air commandos wanted him on the team, not only because was a great air commando and a great aviator, but because he was a great person,” Dierig said. “We are eternally grateful for him.”

The Air Force held another memorial service for Roger Fortson last week at the Florida air base. Several people shared stories about how Fortson went out of his way to help them, even when he didn’t have to.

“Everybody that had a story let me know that Roger did not leave them,” Meka Fortson said. “If they didn’t know something, they said Roger taught it to them.”

Harmoni, who is having a particularly tough time with her brother’s death, was gifted a stuffed bear that she has been extremely protective of, her mother said.

Meka Fortson said life is radically different without her son, who she described as the jokester and entertainer of the family.

“We can be laughing, and the next thing you know we’re crying and we’re hurting,” she said of the grieving process.

She said that she is trying to remain as strong as possible, even if she’s broken-hearted.

“I’m just like Roger,” his mother said. “I don’t want to see nobody sad, I don’t want to see nobody hurt.”


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