Five years ago Monday, Joey Forgione knocked on his mother’s door to tell her that his brother, his best friend, would not be coming home again.
Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Deputy Anthony Forgione had been shot and killed by an escaped mental patient that morning.
“It was a nightmare,” said Joey Forgione, who was a Niceville police officer at the time. “It was a long day, hard to process. You never think you’d have to do notification on a family member.”
On July 22, 2008, Anthony Forgione and other members of the Sheriff’s Office’s Special Response Team were called to a home on Plymouth Avenue in the Ocean City area of Fort Walton Beach where Mark Rohlman had barricaded himself.
Rohlman’s family had told officials he likely was armed and had escaped from Fort Walton Beach Medical Center twice in the previous 24 hours.
Deputies had tried to persuade Rohlman to come out of the house, but after three hours they decided to enter before he hurt himself.
As SRT members walked into a bedroom, Rohlman fired a shotgun. Forgione was hit in the upper chest and was killed.
Rohlman then shot himself in the head and died.
Forgione was the first Okaloosa County sheriff’s deputy to be killed in the line of duty.
In the aftermath, people struggled to figure out just what had happened and how to prevent it from happening again.
Change came both locally and statewide.
Since 2008, sheriff’s deputies have attended crisis intervention training to prepare them for worst-case scenarios involving mentally unstable people. The training helps them identify the signs and symptoms of mental illness and offers advice on how to deal with those people.
Sheriff Larry Ashley said protocol on how law officers approach scenarios similar to Forgione’s also has changed. Deputies now have more equipment and technology to protect them.
“It was so sobering,” Ashley said. “This is certainly a dangerous job and we’ve had our share of close calls, assaults battery. Those come with the territory.
“But to lose a friend, co-worker, a life, it was a surreal ordeal.”
One year after Forgione’s death, the Florida Legislature passed the Forgione Act. It outlines the duties of law enforcement officers and mental health facilities when they deal with patients who have been detained involuntarily under the state’s Baker Act.
Forgione, who was 33, was just shy of his three-year anniversary with the Sheriff’s Office when he was killed. He was with the Fort Walton Beach Police Department before that.
“He helped everyone he could. He was such a hard worker,” said his mother, Charlene Forgione Dietz. “He had such a good personality. He was so fun to be with and he loved being a police officer.”
Forgione left a wife, two children who were 10 and 5 years old, and other family and friends in the local area where he grew up.
“Even five years later it’s hard,” Joey Forgione said. “You’re still learning to deal with it. It’s like losing your right arm. You never get that back, but you get used to it.”
“Sometimes I think the time between it is worse than when we first learned about Tony,” Forgione Dietz said. “I go to the gravesite and put flowers down for my son and think, ‘I have to do this for the rest of my life.’
“It’s a struggle.”
Contact Daily News Staff Writer Angel McCurdy at 850-315-4432or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @AngelMnwfdn.