Hundreds of law enforcement officers scoured Orlando on Monday for a man suspected of fatally shooting a police officer, searching door-to-door in apartment complexes and prompting the lockdown of a dozen schools.
After the shooting outside a Walmart, the suspect fled in a vehicle, fired shots at a pursuing officer, abandoned his vehicle and carjacked another, police said in an account of the investigation.
The man ditched the second vehicle a little later and ran into an apartment complex, where the search was concentrated, Orlando Police Chief John Mina said.
Later in the day, an Orange County sheriff’s deputy searching for the suspect was killed when his motorcycle collided with another vehicle.
The officer shot to death was identified as Orlando police Master Sgt. Debra Clayton, 42, a 17-year department veteran who was married and the mother of a college-age son.
The suspect is Markeith Loyd, who is also wanted in the killing of a pregnant woman in December, Mina said. A reward of up to $60,000 is offered for information leading to Loyd’s arrest.
“I’m confident we will find him,” Mina said. “It doesn’t matter where he is. We will track him down to the ends of the Earth to find him.”
“To lose two law enforcement officers on this Law Enforcement Officer Appreciation Day is indeed a tragedy,” Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said.
Brief foot chase
The chief said someone at the Walmart at North John Young Parkway and Princeton Street contacted Clayton and told her Loyd was in the area, Mina said. Clayton radioed at 7:17 a.m. to say she was trying to contact a murder suspect.
Mina said it appears Clayton briefly chased the suspect on foot. “As soon as she said stop he basically opened fire on her,” the chief said. Clayton returned fire but investigators don’t think she struck the gunman, Mina said.
Two minutes after Clayton’s last radio contact, police received a call of an officer shot. Officers performed CPR but could not revive Clayton.
After the vehicle chase, hundreds of law enforcement officers descended on the area. Schools were locked down and residents were urged to stay inside.
“If you don’t have to be out, don’t be out,” Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said. “We are all in this together.”
The search for Loyd was focused on the area around an apartment complex.
Mina said officers searched “dozens of apartments and residences” and won’t slow down because of darkness. Police helicopters hovered overhead.
“I believe there have been people out there helping him all along,” Mina said. “If we find out about those people we will criminally charge them.”
He said Loyd would be charged with first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer and attempted murder of the officer he fired at.
‘He shot her down’
Witness James Herman told CNN affiliate WFTV he saw the shooting outside the Walmart.
“I was walking down the sidewalk, right past the officer, and I heard her tell him to stop, or whatever, and he shot her. He shot her down,” he said.
Herman said the man continued shooting behind him as he was running from the scene.
Herman also said the man wore a security shirt, but Mina said the suspect was not a security guard.
“That’s not uncommon,” he said. “We run into people in nightclubs that wear T-shirts that say FBI, police.”
Sheriff’s deputy killed
Authorities across Orange County scrambled to find Loyd. During the manhunt, a sheriff’s deputy was killed in a crash, Demings said.
“Not only did we lose an Orlando police officer today, we lost an Orange County deputy sheriff as well who was traveling on his motorcycle,” the sheriff said.
“A motorist turned in front of him. Based on eyewitness testimony, he had a green light, he was not traveling at any (high) rate of speed.”
He was identified as Deputy First Class Norman Lewis, an 11-year veteran of the department.
A dangerous pursuit
Demings said several law enforcement officers have been injured searching for Loyd.
At one point, an Orange County sheriff’s captain saw a vehicle believed to be the suspect’s and made a U-turn, Demings said.
The suspect fired at the captain. The captain was not seriously injured, but authorities are now pursuing an attempted murder charge against the suspect.
As hundreds of law enforcement officers searched for the killer, several Orange County schools went on lockdown. By 3 p.m. ET, the lockdowns had been lifted at all the schools, the school system said on Twitter.
A hero who went above and beyond
While the manhunt continues, Mina said his department is grieving the death of a “hero.”
“I’ve known Debra for 17 years. She was extremely committed to our youth and the community. She did so many different projects in the community. She organized several marches against violence by herself,” the police chief said.
He said she mentored kids and went on trips to Washington and other parts of the country with them.
“Debra Clayton is a hero, and she gave her life protecting the community that she loved.”
The sheriff said his department is also mourning the death of its deputy. But with an “armed and extremely dangerous” killer on the loose, there is little time to grieve.
“While we’re processing our own emotional feelings, we still have a job to do,” Demings said.
Suspect’s girlfriend slain
CNN affiliate WFTV reported that Loyd was wanted in the December 13 fatal shooting of Sade Dixon, 24, his pregnant girlfriend, outside her home in the Pine Hills neighborhood.
She was the mother of a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old.
Dixon’s brother, Ronald Steward, was critically injured when he tried to come to Dixon’s aid, WFTV reported, citing deputies.
“She was a phenomenal woman,” Stephanie Dixon Daniels, Dixon’s mother, told WFTV. “She did everything she possibly could for her children.”
A deadly first for 2017
The Orlando Police Department tweeted a video of Clayton’s flag-draped casket as it was wheeled away from a hospital.
Clayton’s death marks the first shooting fatality of a law enforcement officer in the United States in 2017, said Steve Groeninger of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
On Saturday, North Las Vegas police Det. Chad Parque was killed in a traffic crash.
The deaths of Clayton and the unidentified Orange County sheriff’s deputy mark the second and third on-duty law enforcement officer deaths of 2017.
Groeninger said 2016 had 136 law enforcement deaths, including 65 from firearms.