'They Took My Gift Away': In Interview, Mother of Florida Airman Killed by Police Describes Shock

Roger Fortson, the 23-year-old airman killed by police in Florida, is shown in his high school graduation gown.
Roger Fortson, the 23-year-old airman killed by police in Florida, is shown in his high school graduation gown. (Photo courtesy of Ben Crump Law)

The mother of the 23-year-old airman who was shot and killed by police on May 3 said her son was a model citizen and called for the Florida sheriff's office to be forthcoming about his last moments.

Meka Fortson told Military.com in an exclusive interview Thursday that her son, Senior Airman Roger Fortson, had always wanted to serve his country and had dreams of becoming a pilot. She said he had recently returned from a deployment overseas, only to die in his apartment.

"It's a disbelief. Every day, I try to go to sleep early to wake up like it's a dream," she told Military.com. "He just came back from deployment from fighting for us. With everything we got going on in our country, he's fighting for us and he came back to be murdered, slain like that so violently."

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Roger Fortson lived in an off-base residence in Fort Walton Beach. His special operations squadron at Hurlburt Field in the Florida panhandle flies AC-130J Ghostrider gunships.

The Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office said in a May 4 statement that deputies were responding to a reported disturbance.

But Ben Crump, a high-profile civil rights attorney retained by the Fortson family, said there was no disturbance and that Fortson was home alone May 3, chatting on a video call with another person, who told the attorney that the airman heard a knock on his door.

Roger Fortson, according to the witness, asked, "Who is it?" But he didn't receive an answer. After a subsequent "aggressive" second knock and seeing no one through the peephole, Fortson grabbed his legally owned gun, Crump said.

The Sunshine State has made it easier to buy and carry firearms in recent years, and has created special carve-outs for service members that simplify the process further, such as not requiring troops to take safety courses in order to qualify to carry concealed weapons under a 2023 law.

Fortson was a service member, in his own residence and had no criminal record, Crump said.

Roger Fortson poses with his sister in matching flight suits.
Roger Fortson poses with his sister in matching flight suits. (Photo courtesy of Ben Crump Law)

In a May 4 statement, the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office said, "Hearing sounds of a disturbance, [the deputy] reacted in self-defense after he encountered a 23-year-old man armed with a gun and after the deputy had identified himself as law enforcement."

Crump pushed back against that narrative and told Military.com no gunfire was exchanged and that Fortson was a model citizen who did not pose a threat.

"The reality is he was the best of us. He was the person who you would trust with a firearm. I mean, he was military trained," Crump said. "So, for them to put out a statement claiming self-defense is just misleading because they're trying to suggest that what they did was justified."

As Fortson was walking back to his living room, police entered the apartment and shot him. He reportedly said "I can't breathe" while on the ground after being shot, Crump said, repeating a witness account of the event.

Police radio audio reviewed by Military.com reported a call for a disturbance at an apartment complex at 319 Racetrack Road around 4:30 p.m. local time.

"Don't have anything further than a male and female; it's all fourth-party information from the front desk at the leasing office," a deputy said on the radio.

A few minutes later, another deputy reported "shots fired, suspect down," and called for emergency medical services.

"Multiple gunshot wounds to the chest, Black male," another deputy chimes in shortly after. Fortson was shot six times, Crump said in his statement.

No other details, including the circumstances of the disturbance that prompted the local deputies to visit the apartment building, were released. Fortson was taken to an area hospital, where he later died. No officers were harmed in the incident.

The sheriff's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday on the attorney's claims. The same sheriff's office received public scrutiny when an internal investigation detailed that a deputy fired his weapon multiple times at a detained suspect after believing the sound of an acorn hitting his vehicle was gunfire, GulfLive.com reported. That deputy resigned.

Crump told Military.com that he wants the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office to admit that it did something wrong and criticized the deputies, saying they didn't identify themselves when they came to Roger's apartment.

"All he did was what many law-abiding, responsible American citizens would have done," Crump said. "And that is when you hear somebody at your door, and you are not sure who it is because you don't hear them identify themselves, you get your legally registered firearm for protection."

Fortson joined the Air Force on Nov. 19, 2019, according to a copy of his service record provided to Military.com. He joined as an AC-130J gunner. He graduated from McNair High School in Atlanta, Georgia, with honors, Crump told Military.com.

The deputy involved was not identified in the news release.

On Monday evening, Okaloosa County Sheriff Eric Aden released a statement saying the department was "saddened" by the incident and called for further investigation into the shooting.

"I immediately placed the deputy on administrative leave and have asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to conduct the investigation that is required in such incidents," Aden said. "The State Attorney's Office will also conduct an independent review. At this time, we humbly ask for our community's patience as we work to understand the facts that resulted in this tragic event."

The sheriff's office declined to provide Military.com the original 911 call, body camera footage or the police report into the incident, citing "the ongoing active investigation" in an emailed response.

Following his death, Roger's mother has received kind words from those who served alongside him. She described him as a rising star in the ranks and an inspiration to his 16-year-old brother and 10-year-old sister.

"He was my gift, and they took my gift away," Roger's mother said. "And they didn't give it to me. God gave me that gift ... and they took my gift away."

Related: Special Operations Airman Shot and Killed by Florida Police During Disturbance in Apartment Building

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