MELBOURNE, FLA. - An Orlando police officer described as a hero was shot and killed early Monday morning, prompting a manhunt for a suspect already wanted on charges he fatally shot his pregnant ex-girlfriend last month, authorities said.
Hours later, an Orange County, Fla., sheriff's deputy was killed in a traffic crash as a search got underway for the Orlando officer's suspected killer. The traffic crash involving the sheriff's motor deputy, however, was not directly tied to the initial incident involving the shooting death of the Orlando officer, authorities said.
Orlando police identified the officer shot as Master Sgt. Debra Clayton, a mother of two and a 17-year veteran of the Orlando Police Department.
"She gave her life protecting the community she loved. She will be deeply missed," said Orlando Police Chief John Mina in an emotional news conference broadcast nationally. "We have a lot of resources trying to catch this suspect. He will be brought to justice," he said, calling the fallen officer a hero.
Police are searching for Markeith Loyd, 41, who was spotted Monday morning in Orlando fleeing in a vehicle from a Walmart where the Orlando officer was shot, the Orange County Sheriff's Office said. A reward of up to $60,000 is being offered for information leading to his arrest.
Loyd was already being sought in connection with the shooting death of 24-year-old Sade Dixon, a mother of two, at her west Orange County, Fla., home in December. Her brother also was shot and wounded in that incident, according to media reports.
Clayton's death came as the nation marked the annual Law Enforcement Appreciation Day. Across central Florida, tributes poured in on social media for Clayton and the Orange County sheriff's deputy who was killed in the traffic accident. The deputy was not identified. Investigators in that case were working to contact his relatives.
Clayton's body, escorted on Orlando Avenue by a stream of police cars, evoked another tragic milestone as the procession rode past the Pulse nightclub, site of a massacre that claimed 49 lives near the heart of the city in June.
Upon learning of the deadly incidents, Florida Gov. Rick Scott tweeted: "Just spoke to @ChiefJohnMina and am praying for @OrlandoPolice. I let him know the State stands ready to help in any way."
Police have not detailed the circumstances leading up to Clayton's shooting death. However, they said that earlier, an unidentified deputy saw Loyd in a vehicle. Loyd pulled into a nearby apartment complex and shot at the deputy, striking his unmarked SUV twice, officials said, according to WKMG-TV. The deputy was not injured.
The Orlando TV station reported Loyd then carjacked a vehicle and fled, police said. He later abandoned the vehicle. The manhunt was underway where he abandoned the vehicle, officials said.
Authorities said Loyd should be considered armed and dangerous, WKMG-TV reported.
"We are asking the public to assist us with his whereabouts," the Sheriff's Office said. "However, we ask the public not to approach him and call 911 instead."
A video showed police officers saluting Clayton's body as it was carried out of Orlando Regional Medical Center on a flag-draped gurney.
The Orlando Police Department family is heartbroken today. One of our own was taken in the line of duty. There are no words. pic.twitter.com/M48o1nnr4h— Orlando Police (@OrlandoPolice) January 9, 2017