By Tom Odula, The Associated Press
NAIROBI, Kenya — Colorado GOP strategist Kyle Forti, three other Americans and a local pilot are dead in Kenya after their helicopter crashed on an island in Lake Turkana in the north, police said Monday.
The crash occurred Sunday night in Central Island National Park as two helicopters took off after a visit to the Lobolo tented camp, according to an internal police report seen by The Associated Press.
One helicopter lost contact and crashed soon after takeoff around 8:30 p.m., Kenya’s Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement. It said a search and rescue mission found the wreckage shortly after 3 a.m.
It said an investigation was under way into the cause of the crash.
The United States Embassy confirmed the deaths of the four Americans and the names of three of them: Anders Asher Jesiah Burke, Brandon Howe Stapper and Forti.
Forti ran Republican Brian Watson’s campaign for Colorado treasurer last year. His death prompted an outpouring of sympathy from the state’s conservative and political circles.
“We were from completely different sides of the aisle but he had a certain grace about the way that he did his work,” state Rep. Jonathan Singer, a Longmont Democrat, said in memorializing Forti on the Colorado House floor Monday morning. “I think it’s because of he did he saw that we needed to take care of all of our kids, especially the kids who didn’t get a first chance — let alone a second chance.”
House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, a Castle Rock Republican, said Forti had “a huge heart,” serving as a foster parent.
“He’s leaving behind a young, beautiful family,” Neville said, standing alongside Singer. “The community is definitely going to miss him. God just wanted him home a little early because he was that good of a man.”
Jeff Hunt, vice president of policy at Colorado Christian University, quickly memorialized his friend in a stream of tweets, describing Forti as someone who was respected by people all along the political spectrum.
“Kyle’s legacy will continue to live through the lives he’s influenced. He achieved what so many of us hope to do, he made a profound difference in this world,” Hunt wrote.
Forti and his wife, Hope, became foster parents not long after the birth of their son, Max, who is now 5. Together they have been advocates for foster families and in 2018, Hope started a nonprofit group, Foster Together Colorado, that helps match other foster families with supporters in their own neighborhoods.
“He was a force for good in our culture,” Hunt wrote. “He was a bright light of compassion, peace, strength, kindness and love.”
Forti, 29, was a 2012 graduate of Hillsdale College and began working in politics immediately, including managing Colorado Springs state Rep. Owen Hill’s run for U.S. Senate in 2014. He was the founder of D/CO, a Denver political and public relations firm.
He was considered a rising star in Colorado GOP politics, someone who pushed for moderation in a time when the party was lurching to the right.
Aurora Republican Ryan Frazier said on Twitter that he was stunned by Forti’s death. “Words cannot do justice to describe how shocked and deeply heart broken I am to learn of the loss of a super good guy, a teammate, a friend, and a loving father/husband. My prayers are with Hope Forti, their child and family. Heaven gained an angel. Pray.”
Walker Stapleton, the 2018 Republican nominee for Colorado governor, also offered his prayers.
“Very sad to hear today of the loss of Coloradan Kyle Forti,” Stapleton said. “Kyle was a gracious guy who had an exuberance for life. Jenna and I send our prayers to Kyle’s family.”
Forti’s brother, Josh Forti, said Kyle was the oldest of eight siblings. Forti loved to travel and was visiting friends in Kenya when he died, Josh Forti said.
“Kyle is known for being someone of integrity, someone who searched for truth, provided love and brought people together,” Josh Forti said. “Right now we’re grieving. But we trust God and trust that God’s in control here. We know Kyle is in paradise.”
The U.S. embassy referred further questions to Kenyan authorities.
Last month two Americans were among five people killed when their plane crashed as they were traveling to Lodwar near Lake Turkana. Kenyan police had reported three Americans killed but the U.S. Embassy confirmed two.
The Colorado Sun contributed to this report.
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