'It's OK Not to Be OK': Special Operations Wing Orders Stand-Down After Roger Fortson's Police Killing

Chantemekki Fortson, mother of Roger Fortson
Chantemekki Fortson, mother of Roger Fortson, a U.S. Air Force senior airman, holds a photo of her son during a news conference regarding his death, along with family and attorney Ben Crump, Thursday, May 9, 2024, in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

The Air Force special operations wing in Florida where Senior Airman Roger Fortson served before he was shot and killed by police on May 3 paused training Monday, allowing service members to grieve for their late teammate as his family prepared for a funeral.

Fortson, who served as an AC-130J Ghostrider gunner with the 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field near Fort Walton Beach, Florida, was killed by an Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office deputy after a call about a disturbance led the officer to the 23-year-old's off-base apartment. The officer shot Fortson multiple times within seconds of him answering the door with a legally owned firearm at his side.

"Squadrons and work centers will have resources made available in order to have the difficult conversations, vent, cry, laugh, yell, and support each other," Col. Patrick Dierig, commander of the 1st Special Operations Wing, said in a message to airmen that was obtained by Military.com. "I want all of you to know your voices matter and we all need to be connected in our grief. It's OK not to be OK."

Read Next: Experts Say Gun Alone Doesn't Justify Deadly Force in Fatal Shooting of Florida Airman

Dierig told airmen to use the day to have small group discussions with fellow service members and to connect with resources being offered at squadron centers, as well as speak with commanders, senior enlisted leaders and chaplains to "lead you through this trying time."

Fortson's fatal shooting raised grave questions about the deputy's use of deadly force -- and why he shot so quickly if Fortson, who was Black, had not raised his gun. The death sent ripples not just through the the 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field but through the military, and has also elicited responses from members of Congress.

Lt. Gen. Tony Bauernfeind, the head of Air Force Special Operations Command, sent a message to special operators last week "grieving the untimely and tragic loss of a fellow air commando" and encouraged his service members to support Fortson's family, the 1st Special Operations Wing and fellow airmen.

"We will all see this event through varying lenses, informed by our own journeys, and our own perspectives," Bauernfeind said in his message, obtained by Military.com. "We must acknowledge and respect these varying perspectives so we can move forward as a team."

Bauernfeind also advised airmen to avoid assuming Fortson "did something wrong" or that "law enforcement did something wrong." He added that "the investigation will lay out the facts" and service members should avoid "failing to acknowledge we have grieving teammates with differing journeys and perspectives."

The police body camera footage showing the deputy responding to the call, ultimately arriving at Fortson's apartment door and the moment he fires approximately six rounds into the airman's chest was released last week by the sheriff's office.

Okaloosa County Sheriff Eric Aden told reporters that the deputy was put on leave as the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Florida attorney general's office examine the footage and details of the case.

Ben Crump, an attorney retained by Fortson's family, said the airman was shot six times. In the body camera footage, the deputy tells the airman to drop his weapon only after shooting him multiple times and as he lay on the floor riddled with bullets.

The family has pushed back against the reported disturbance call. They say Fortson was home alone on a FaceTime video call with his girlfriend when the deputy arrived at his door, raising questions about the information that led the officer to confront him.

Members of Congress have also started to speak out publicly about the case and offer their support to Fortson's family.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican who represents the district where Hurlburt Field is located, defended Fortson following the release of the body camera footage.

"Roger did not deserve to die. He did nothing wrong," Gaetz said in a May 10 post on X. "He is an American patriot for serving in our military and should be remembered as such -- with no stain on his reputation whatsoever."

Additionally, Rep. Lucy McBath -- a Democrat who represents Fortson's family's district in the Atlanta, Georgia, area -- called the airman's mother to offer her condolences and support, an attorney for the family told Military.com.

Members of the public have been placing flowers at Fortson's door where he was shot in the days following his death last week and also held a candlelight vigil at the apartment complex Sunday.

His funeral is planned for Friday, according to the attorney for Fortson's family. It will be held at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church near Atlanta.

Related: Florida Airman Was Shot by Deputy Within Seconds of Opening Apartment Door, Body Cam Footage Shows

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