ATLANTA – Former boxing champion Vernon Forrest exchanged gunfire with robbery suspects before being shot to death, Atlanta police said Monday.
The 38-year-old former two-division champion, who gained notoriety when he became the first boxer to defeat Shane Mosley, was killed Saturday night. Investigators believe between 20 and 24 shots were fired from two guns, said Lt. Keith Meadows. Police recovered Forrest's gun and one shell casing belonging to that gun, he said.
Forrest was putting air in his car tires at a gas station when a man asked for money, his manager Charles Watson said. When he pulled his wallet out, the man snatched it and started running, and Forrest took off after him, Watson said.
Meadows would not confirm those details and said investigators have no new leads on suspects. Fulton County medical examiner Michele Stauffenberg had confirmed the case was a homicide and that the autopsy showed Forrest died from "multiple gunshot wounds involving the torso and thigh."
Forrest, a native of Augusta, Ga., who lived in Atlanta, was a member of the 1992 Olympic team along with Oscar De La Hoya. The popular fighter later won welterweight and junior middleweight titles and compiled a professional record of 41-3 with 29 knockouts.
Forrest turned pro not long after the Barcelona Olympics, when he was stricken by food poisoning and lost in the opening round. He won his first world title by defeating Raul Frank at Madison Square Garden for the vacant IBF welterweight belt in May 2001, and less than a year later handed Mosley his first career loss to capture the WBC title.
The smooth-punching Forrest defended the belt against Mosley, winning by unanimous decision six months later, before losing to Ricardo Mayorga in January 2003. It was Forrest's first loss, and he'd lose again to Mayorga in a close bout many believe he won.
Friends say Forrest's true calling was helping children and others with disabilities and he had been honored for his efforts in Atlanta.
Mosley praised Forrest for his boxing and his positive effect within the community.
"I viewed Vernon as a great competitor in the ring and an even greater man outside of the ring," he said in an e-mail. "His philanthropic efforts in his community and his drive to help others were deeply admired," Mosley added. "My thoughts and prayers go out to his family during this very difficult time."
After taking two years off because of injuries, Forrest embarked on an impressive comeback that included a win over Ike Quartey and a victory over Carlos Baldomir for the vacant WBC junior middleweight title. Forrest defended it once, before losing it in a stunning upset to Sergio Mora in June 2008.
Those who knew Forrest praised his role in launching the Destiny's Child group homes in Atlanta, which work to provide homes for the mentally disabled. Longtime publicist Kelly Swanson called Forrest "a caring humanitarian who always stood up for what he believed to be the fairness of life."
She said working with children was "truly his calling."
"When he wasn't boxing, this was his full-time job. ... When they would see him, they would just light up, and some of them couldn't even talk. Vernon was very much involved. He'd have some of the kids over to his house on Sundays. They were part of his family."
Funeral arrangements were still being made for Forrest, who was not married and had one son.
This is the third high-profile death of a boxing champion in recent weeks.
Hall of Famer Alexis Arguello, the mayor of Managua, Nicaragua, was found dead at his home on July 1 in an apparent suicide. Two weeks ago, popular brawler Arturo Gatti was found dead in a condominium in Brazil. Gatti's wife remains the prime suspect in that case.