Loved ones vow to fight in Forrest's memory

LITHONIA, Ga. --- Two days after Vernon Forrest was celebrated in his hometown, the rest of his world came to say one final goodbye to the former boxing champion from Augusta.


More than 700 people -- including fellow boxing world champions Evander Holyfield and Antonio Tarver and former Atlanta Falcons Jamal Anderson and Ray Buchanan -- attended Mr. Forrest's funeral Monday at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Dekalb County.

Mr. Forrest's family pleaded for justice against those who gunned down the three-time world champion in a robbery July 25 at a gas station in southwest Atlanta, and they pledged that the fighter's death will deliver a message against violence.

"I believe in God, I believe in justice, and we want justice served to the fullest," said Alphonso Forrest, his brother, who still lives in Augusta. "He didn't deserve it, I don't deserve it, none of us do. It hurts so bad.

"Whatever it takes to get justice for you Vernon, legally, we're going to get it done. I promise you."

Mr. Forrest's case and the video footage of some of the men said to be involved in his robbery and death were featured Saturday night on America's Most Wanted . Atlanta police are reportedly close to issuing arrest warrants as soon as the end of the week.

LaVert Forrest, another one of the boxer's seven siblings, said Mr. Forrest's death will not go in vain: "Today we are disciples of Vernon Forrest, and we're going to champion his cause." He said that just weeks before his death, Mr. Forrest was planning a "Stop the Violence" program in Augusta to address the gang problems in the streets of his hometown. He pledged to carry on his brother's message.

"We'll never let him die," Mr. LaVert said.

His sister, Sheila, asked every man in attendance to raise his right hand and pledge to stand up in his community and confront those doing harm to "put them on the right track."

The message was driven home in a passionate eulogy by Bishop Eddie L. Long, who championed Mr. Forrest as a fighter who finished the course and had faith. He said the attendees were there to honor "a man -- because we don't see enough of them."

"When there's not a belt at stake, where are the fighters that get up every day and fight for what's right?" Bishop Long said. "Where are the men and women who stand for something? Evil wins when good men are silent."

For that, Bishop Long defended Mr. Forrest's actions against the critics who question whether he should have chased down the ones who stole his wallet.

"Somebody's got to draw a line in the sand and put their life on the line," Bishop Long said. "Where are the fighters? The tragedy will be if we stand here to pay tribute and then go back to being silent. ... We are going to stand with his family for justice. This has got to stop. It is finished."

Among the hundreds attending the funeral were Mr. Forrest's trainers Buddy McGirt, Al Williams, Ronnie Shields and Tom Moraetes; promoter Gary Shaw; former Atlanta police chief Eldrin Bell; and a number of peers in the boxing ranks, including pall bearers Cedric Boswell and Bennie Heard.

While his family once again paraded the eight boxing belts Mr. Forrest won during his career and friends wore white caps with a logo for "Vernon Forrest, The Viper," Mr. Forrest was again remembered for his charitable passions that made him "a champion in and out of the ring."

Kerry Davis, the head of programming for HBO Sports who signed Mr. Forrest to a rare multifight deal, said Mr. Forrest's death was more than just another blow to the boxing community that lost three relatively young champions to violence in the past month.

"Humankind lost someone who could have been a real champion for us," Mr. Davis said. "As his brother said, we can't let this moment slide."

Mr. Holyfield said Mr. Forrest will be remembered most "for the way he helped the underprivileged."

"You don't get the praise and the press for doing the things he did," Mr. Holyfield said.

Ricky Jones, who grew up sparring in Augusta Boxing Club with Mr. Forrest, said he's still coming to grips with the loss of a friend who persisted in the boxing business and made the most of his talents.

"I just don't believe that the last time we were on Facebook chatting and I wake up the next morning and he's dead," said Mr. Jones, who was one of 2,925 friends the boxer had on his Facebook page.

Mr. Forrest's closest friends and family -- including his mother, Mildred, and only son, Vernon Jr. -- arrived for the afternoon service in a procession of nine white limousines. They filed by his open casket one final time before it was closed at the start of a service filled with music, memories and a video tribute to his career in the ring.

A solo trumpeter closed the two-hour service and then led the procession out of the church with When the Saints Go Marching In . Mr. Forrest's body was carried away in a horse-drawn hearse before the procession departed for the interment at Westview Abbey Cemetery in Atlanta.

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