“Vernon was one of the few decent people in boxing,” promoter Gary Shaw said Sunday.
“I mean really decent. He cared about mentally challenged adults. He cared about kids. I just can’t believe it.”
Mark Guilbeau, an investigator with the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s office, said an autopsy is planned for Sunday.
Forrest, a native of Augusta, Ga., who lived in Atlanta, was a member of the 1992 Olympic team. He also was a former IBF welterweight and two-time WBC junior middleweight champion.
“He was one of the most gracious and charitable fighters in boxing and he will be missed by the entire boxing community and all of his friends at HBO,” HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg told The Associated Press.
Greenburg helped put on eight of Forrest’s fights.
“Maybe Vernon’s lasting legacy will be for Americans everywhere to rise up and end this kind of senseless violence,” Greenburg said.
Those who knew the fighter praised his role in launching the Destiny’s Child group homes in Atlanta, which work to provide homes for the mentally disabled.
“It was truly his calling,” Forrest’s publicist, Kelly Swanson, said of his work with children. “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.”
Swanson said Forrest was not married and has one son, Vernon Jr.
Inside the ring, Forrest was known for taking two wins over Mosley in 2002. On Sept. 13, 2008, Forrest reclaimed his WBC 154-pound title by beating Sergio Mora in a rematch of a fight won by Mora.
The win over Mora was Forrest’s last fight. He suffered a rib injury while training for an April fight against Jason LeHoullier. That fight was canceled, and Forrest had to vacate his title.
Ken Hershman, vice president in charge of boxing at Showtime, which aired Forrest’s first fight with Mora, said Forrest was a popular fighter who was dedicated to his charity work.
“He wasn’t looking for anything, he just did it because it was the right thing to do,” Hershman said.
“Vernon was a young, vibrant guy coming to the end of his career. He still had a lot of life ahead of him.”
There were tentative plans for a title fight against Sergio Martinez, perhaps in October, Shaw said. Plans for an August fight against Martinez were pushed back by Forrest’s rib injury.
“Instead of being an Olympian, a two-time world champion, a guy who beat Shane Mosley twice, the guy who did some good for boxing — maybe his legacy will be for something else,” Shaw said. “Maybe boxing will finally get around the violence outside of the ring. Maybe Vernon’s name and legacy will be for that.”
Forrest, who had a 41-3 career record with 29 knockouts, is the third prominent boxer to die this month.
Former two-time champion Arturo Gatti, who retired in 2007, was found dead July 11 at a Brazilian resort. Gatti’s wife, Amanda Rodrigues, is being held as the prime suspect.
Another former champion, Alexis Arguello, was found dead on July 1 at his home in Managua, Nicaragua. He was elected mayor of Nicaragua’s capital last year.
“If the saying is bad things come in threes, hopefully we’re done with that for a long time to come,” Hershman said. “I hope that’s the case. I mean, ironically three great people, three great human beings too. Not a good few months.”
Forrest’s trainer, Buddy McGirt, also worked with Gatti. McGirt said Forrest planned to start training Aug. 1 for his next fight.
“I just feel so bad, he has a son you know,” McGirt said. “Someone is going to be raised without a father because somebody wanted to rob someone.”