Friends and family members wept openly as they walked by the American-flag-draped open casket of an Orlando Police sergeant gunned down in a Wal-Mart parking lot.
The funeral service for Master Sgt. Debra Clayton, 42, was held Saturday at the First Baptist Church in Orlando.
Before the service, four helicopters flew overhead outside and then one peeled away in what is known as a “missing man” formation.
Hundreds of officers, deputies and central Florida residents gathered to honor Clayton, who authorities said was gunned down Monday by a fugitive who had been wanted for the murder of his pregnant ex-girlfriend.
After the service, Clayton’s casket was carried to a hearse and then driven to Woodlawn Memorial Park in Gotha.
Authorities said Clayton was gunned down outside a Wal-Mart store in Orlando last Monday after she approached 41-year-old Markeith Loyd.
Hundreds of officers and deputies have been searching for him since Monday, and a $100,000 reward is being offered for information that leads to his arrest.
At a visitation Friday, hundreds of people turned out to comfort Clayton’s family.
“It was kind of heartbreaking to hear what happened,” said Gina Riley, a family friend of Clayton, who attended Friday night’s visitation at First Baptist Church of Orlando. “I knew I was going to be sad. I knew I was going to tear up. Even with the cops in there, there’s a lot of pulling out tissue boxes.”
Orlando Police Chief John Mina repeated his desire to arrest Loyd as soon as possible.
“Long after we catch Markeith — and we will catch him — the investigation into who helped him is going to continue,” Mina told WKMG. “We will not rest until every single person who assisted him in the slightest way will be put in jail and be behind bars.”
Anyone with information that could help investigators find Loyd is asked to call Crimeline at 800-423-TIPS.
Mina warned not to approach Loyd if he’s spotted but to call 911 immediately.
Officer posthumously promoted
Clayton is remembered for mentoring youth, her dedication to the community she grew up in and making every effort to bridge the gap between law enforcement and the community it served.
She had worked for the Orlando Police Department for 17 years, most recently as a supervisor for a patrol division in the neighborhood where she was shot. She previously had worked in investigations and as a school resource officer.
The master sergeant was one of the officers who responded to the shooting at Pulse nightclub in which 49 patrons were killed. Last June’s massacre in Orlando was the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
Mina said at Clayton’s funeral service that he is posthumously promoting Clayton to the rank of lieutenant.
Clayton, who was married and has a college-aged son, read books to children at elementary schools, would clean the homes of elderly and was a motherly figure to young people lacking parental guidance, Mina and U.S. Rep. Val Demings said Saturday.
Clayton was remembered most for her community activities, especially when it came to youth programs. She participated in rowing competitions with teenagers and was active in an Urban League anti-violence task force.
Restaurant honors deputy
A local Chick-fil-A restaurant has set aside a table to honor an Orange County Sheriff’s Office deputy who was killed in a motorcycle crash while responding to Clayton’s fatal shooting.
The sheriff’s office on Saturday tweeted a photo of the white-clothed table at the fast-food restaurant that Deputy First Class Norm Lewis used to patronize near the University of Central Florida.
On the table were a red rose in a vase, a framed photo of Lewis and his regular meal of nuggets on a plate.
A service for Lewis is set for Sunday.
SOURCE: MIKE SCHNEIDER