Just before noon on April 29, Nino Fortson asked Facebook friends what kind of person would go around with guns looking for people? Two Sundays later, Nino was dead, a victim of gun violence.
Gunshots ring out near a scene where Atlanta police are conducting a traffic stop. They rush toward the sound to find Nino Fortson, 36, outside the 700 block of Woods Drive, recently shot and in need of serious medical assistance. The man is rushed to Grady Memorial Hospital, where he’s pronounced dead.
Witness accounts say Nino was engaged in a streetside argument with four people — two men and two women — on the night of April 29 in the early hours of the morning. Nino is said to have fired a small-caliber pistol into the air before walking away from the group. Minutes later, witnesses heard more gunfire and saw Nino lying on the ground as one of his assailants limped away.
Nino’s untimely death marks the first murder of a transgender man for 2018, and the 10th victim of violence against the trans community for the year total. Nino was a member of Atlanta’s ballroom scene which, for the uninitiated, serves as a safe space and competition grounds in which members “walk” (compete) for prizes and bragging rights. Nino often performed for the House of Blahnik, under “house father” Kamaro Blahnik. Kamaro, along with Nino’s girlfriend Sonteria Tera Williams, confirmed Nino’s passing via a Facebook video to the consolation of many local and national followers.
LGBTQ media outlets shared their dismay at initial coverage by local stations, in which Nino was misgendered and dead-named, a process by which someone refers to a transgender individual by the name assigned him/her at birth instead of honoring their chosen name.
Shakina McCall, a friend to Nino for more than 20 years, tells Georgia Voice that her heart was shattered upon hearing the news, saying Nino was more like a sibling than a friend.
“[Nino] was loving and funny kept everyone laughing,” she says, adding that Nino was the kind of person who “wanted to help everyone, even if [he] had to go without.” McCall tells us that Nino leaves behind two children that he raised, both in their teens. “This is the hardest things I’ve ever had to deal with,” she admits, adding that she’s cried everyday since the murder.
Executive Director Zahara Green, of Atlanta-based nonprofit Transcending Barriers, says most of Georgia’s trans and gender-nonconforming homicide victims have been trans women rather than masculine-presenting people, but notes the context in which the killing took place.
“This is very unusual,” says Green. “Last year was the highest record of violence against trans people in the metro Atlanta area and in the state of Georgia.”
Carlos Campos, the public affairs director for the Atlanta Police Department, has assured the community that the department’s LGBT liaison officers “will be pulled into the ongoing investigation of Fortson’s death.” The AP employs LGBT liaison officers as part of its Community Oriented Policing Section, while also being lead by Chief Erika Shields, an out lesbian.
The department is not quick to pin the murder as an anti-trans hate crime.
“Our preliminary investigation did not in any way indicate that this individual identified as transgender,” Campos told the community shortly after the murder. “We had no evidence that such an identification played any role in this death. But given the issues that are being raised publicly, we are going to engage our LGBT liaisons to work with our homicide unit and see if there are some angles that need to be looked at.”
At the time of print, the shooter’s identity was still unknown.
If anyone has any information that could assist in the case, please contact Detective Sajdak at (404) 546 – 4975 or remain anonymous with a call to Crime Stoppers at (404) 577 – TIPS. The latter is offering a $2,000 reward for info leading to an arrest.