ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – An Orlando police sergeant who was gunned down was remembered Saturday at her funeral service as someone who put everyone at ease with her infectious smile and made every effort to bridge the gap between law enforcement and the community it served.
Sgt. Debra Clayton read books to children at elementary schools, would clean the homes of elderly residents and was a motherly figure to young people lacking parental guidance, said Orlando Police Chief John Mina and U.S. Rep. Val Demings, a former Orlando police chief.
“She was forever using her resources and others’ too, anyone else she could bring along, to help somebody else,” said Demings, who promoted Clayton to the rank of sergeant in 2007. “Buying washing machines, food, clothing, looking for housing for people who didn’t have it …Debra Clayton was willing to do more than she was paid to do.”
Mina said at the service that he was posthumously promoting the 42-year-old Clayton to the rank of lieutenant.
Clayton loved programs that involved working with young children or helping people because “it helped humanize police officers,” Mina said.
The service was attended by Gov. Rick Scott, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and hundreds of officers and deputies from all over Florida and beyond.
Before the service, friends and family members wept openly as they walked by the American-flag-draped open casket. Outside, four helicopters flew overhead outside and then one peeled away in what is known as a “missing man” formation.
Orlando Police Department Chaplain Andrew Wade urged the law enforcement officers not to be consumed by their anger over how Clayton died.
Authorities say Clayton was gunned down outside a Wal-Mart store in Orlando last Monday after she approached 41-year-old Markeith Loyd, who was wanted for the murder of his pregnant girlfriend at the time. 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.
Clayton 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.
Clayton, who is survived by her husband and adult son, had recently authored a book on the topic of law enforcement bridging the gap with the community they served, and written it from a black officer’s perspective, said Sharon Edgecombe, her former co-worker.
As someone who grew up in tough circumstances, Clayton wouldn’t accept excuses from people who committed crimes, Edgecombe said.
“You could bet they got a stern lecture on their way to jail,” she said.