Master Sgt. Debra Clayton: a mentor, a guardian, a 'rare individual'

By Julie Gargotta, Reporter
Last Updated: Friday, April 28, 2017, 11:49 AM EDT

This story was last updated on: 7:19 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017.

A police officer, a wife, a mother, a mentor. 

Master Sgt. Debra Clayton, a 17-year veteran of the Orlando Police Department, was gunned down Monday while she attempted to make contact with suspected killer Markeith Loyd outside of a Wal-Mart in Orange County.

A day later, she's being remembered for playing many roles in the community. She's being remembered as more than just a police officer.

The Rev. Justin Felton, with the Central Florida Urban League, said he met Clayton years ago and couldn't underscore her commitment to others.

"You're talking about a very rare individual who cares nothing about the blue, the black or the white," Felton said. "All she sees is red— the blood that we share. It's community. This community's going to miss a guardian angel."

Felton said that his civil rights organization honored Clayton last year as one of their heroes.

Looking at a board of photos outside of his office Tuesday, Felton reminisced on Clayton's smiling face.

"That's the real her," he said, tearing up. "So, what you see right there is really true to what you get. (She's) someone who didn't mind putting on some shorts and tennis shoes and playing with our kids and saying, 'Yes, I'm a police officer, but I want you to see me in a different light. This community needs to see officers in a different light.'"

Orlando City Commission Regina Hill said Clayton, who was her substitute liaison and community outreach officer, truly believed that she could make a difference.

"She was a mother. She was a beautiful wife, a terrific daughter. She was more than just a gun and a badge," Hill said. "She didn't forget where she came from."

Clayton played a key role in Parramore Kidz Zone, known as PKZ, which is an outreach program that connects at-risk youths in Orlando's most impoverished neighborhood with communities, activities and mentors.

Mentors like Clayton.

"She was relentless in making sure that she was what those kids would aspire to be," Hill said of Clayton. "She was almost like a big sister to those kids — especially a major role model to the girls there in Parramore Kidz Zone."

"She was a loving person," said Asha Davis, who works with PKZ. "She made you feel welcome."

Davis and her friend Sasha Mills met Clayton years ago at Dragon Boat races.

"When she first came on to do Dragon Boats, she was not a very good rower," Mills said with a chuckle, adding that the sergeant improved over time. "You can tell it was more than just sit in the boat for an hour. (It was) actually wanting to build relationships."

Mills also said that her interactions with Clayton changed her perspective of police in the community, leading to her realization that "she's somebody besides her uniform, and I should give her a chance."

Hill said the best way to honor the fallen police officer would be to keep investing in the places and organizations Clayton served.

"That's all she wanted — was to make an impact and see youth become better because she was here," Hill said.

But, the pain of losing Clayton remains fresh.

"She is missed," Hill said. "Not will be. She is missed."