ABOVE PHOTO: Master Sgt. Debra Clayton (Photo: Orlando Police Department)
By Mike Schneider
ORLANDO, Fla. — A massive manhunt was underway Monday in central Florida as authorities searched for a man accused of shooting and killing an Orlando police officer.
The Orlando Police Department announced the death of Master Sgt. Debra Clayton on its official Twitter account Monday morning. A short time later, authorities said at a press conference that a second law enforcement officer was killed in a vehicle accident while searching for the suspect in Clayton’s killing.
The shooting occurred near a Walmart store in northwest Orlando earlier Monday.
The suspect has been identified as Markeith Loyd, 41. Authorities said Loyd previously was a suspect in the murder of his pregnant ex-girlfriend last December.
Authorities were offering a $60,000 reward for any information leading to Loyd’s arrest. Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said deputies had been searching unsuccessfully for Loyd for several weeks and believe he was receiving help from someone.
“He should be considered armed and dangerous,” said Police Chief John Mina said at a press conference. “He will be brought to justice.”
Mina lauded Clayton, a 17-year veteran of the force as a “committed” officer and “a hero” who gave her life to the community she loves. The tweet said Clayton always had a smile and a high five for every child she came across.
“She made a point, even outside her working hours, do to things for youth and do things for the community,” said Deputy Chief Orlando Rolon, who added he assumed she was wearing a bulletproof vest since that is agency policy.
She was married and had two children. She died at 7:40 AM Monday, less than an hour after she was shot while on duty.
Police released a video of Clayton’s body being taken out of the hospital to a waiting van in a flag-covered stretcher. A line of officers saluted as the stretcher was wheeled out.
Authorities said 17 area schools were placed in lockdown following the shooting.
Mina said officers believed they knew where Loyd was. Officers were deployed to an apartment complex in northwest Orlando. The apartment complex and shooting in northwest Orlando was nowhere near Orlando’s tourism corridor in the southern part of the metro area.
“There will be a large law enforcement presence in that area until we can determine he is not there,” Mina said.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer declared a day of mourning in the city.
Clayton either recognized Loyd or had been tipped off to his whereabouts when she approached him Monday morning, Mina said.
Loyd then fired multiple shots at Clayton, according to the police.
Sheriff’s officials said Loyd was spotted by a deputy fleeing in the Orlando police officer’s vehicle. The suspect pulled into a nearby apartment complex and then fired at a deputy, striking the deputy’s SUV twice. The deputy wasn’t harmed, the sheriff’s office said.
Loyd then carjacked another vehicle, drove away and then abandoned the vehicle not far away, according to the sheriff’s office.
The manhunt was being conducted where he abandoned the vehicle.
Gov. Rick Scott cancelled an appearance in Orlando because of the shooting but appeared with Orlando officials at the news conference.
“I’m heartbroken and angry,” Scott said.