ORLANDO, Fla. — More than 5,000 people packed the First Baptist Orlando church Saturday to pay their final respects to fallen Orlando police Master Sgt. Debra Clayton.
Four helicopters soared above the church in a flyover while law enforcement officers from Central Florida and around the nation lined its driveway.
During the three-hour funeral service, which began at 2 p.m., Orlando police Chief John Mina posthumously promoted Clayton to lieutenant. And it brought the crowd to its feet in applause.
"You exhibited the best in policing," Mina said. "She urged the people to not give up on our Police Department."
During the service, pastors read Psalm 23 and 1 Thessalonians. View the funeral program here.
As Clayton’s relatives, friends and colleagues filed out of the church, they passed Clayton’s patrol SUV, a reminder of her two decades on the force. A few feet away was a hearse -- a reminder of Clayton’s sacrifice for the community she so loved.
“It's sad; it's a senseless death,” Orlando police Sgt. Tanesha Braunskill said. “You won't get away with this. I'm confident in our department, and we will turn over every stone to find you.”
The slain officer's body was then taken to Woodlawn Memorial Park and Funeral Home in Gotha, where she was entombed.
Officers and civilians alike exited their cars along State Road 408 to salute the passing procession.
“You never know when God’s going to call you home,” Gina Riley, a friend of Clayton, said Friday.
Riley said Clayton mentored her niece and occasionally stopped by the family’s home just to chat.
“She was just a good role model,” Riley said. “I know my niece aspired to be like her.”
Clayton died Monday morning after police said homicide suspect Markeith Loyd shot her multiple times in a Pine Hills-area Walmart parking lot.
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Police said Clayton confronted Loyd, who was already being sought in the shooting death of his pregnant ex-girlfriend, Sade Dixon.
Clayton was born Aug. 14, 1974, to Rudolph Thomas Sr. and Yvette Shackelford, and was raised by her late grandparents, Earnest Thomas and Annie Thomas.
The fallen officer, who grew up in Orlando, graduated from Dr. Phillips High School in 1993. She then obtained an associate's degree from Valencia College in 1996.
Two years later, she graduated from the University of Central Florida with a bachelor's degree in public administration. In 2002, Clayton earned a master's degree in criminal justice from the school.
Clayton joined the Orlando Police Department in 1999. She was promoted to sergeant in 2007 and earned the rank of master sergeant in October.
Friends said she had recently started a nonprofit to improve relations between police and the community. She was also involved in numerous outreach programs through the Police Department.
Clayton leaves behind her husband, who she married a year ago in Jamaica, and an adult son.
She authored a book titled "Bridging the Gap Between Law Enforcement and the Community."
Clayton and her husband were members of the Winning Souls for the Kingdom church in Auburndale.
The Texas-based U.S. Honor Flag was taken to Orlando to honor Clayton. The Honor Network is an organization dedicated to memorializing law enforcement officers, firefighters and members of the military who have died in the line of duty.
Previous story: Hundreds gather to remember fallen Orlando police sergeant
Videos of Clayton's funeral service:
- Raw: 'Missing Man' formation honors fallen OPD Sgt. Debra Clayton
- Raw: People gather outside First Baptist Orlando for Master Sgt. Debra Clayton
- Raw: Old Testament Psalm 23 for Orlando Master Sgt. Debra Clayton
- Raw: New Testament 1 Thessalonians
- Raw: Orlando Police Chief John Mina on Master Sgt. Debra Clayton
- Raw: Rep. Val Demings on Master Sgt. Debra Clayton
- Raw: Tammy Hughes on Master Sgt. Debra Clayton
- Raw: Co-workers on Master Sgt. Debra Clayton
- Raw: OPD Bravo Alpha Days
- Raw: Rudy Thomas on his sister Master Sgt. Debra Clayton
- Raw: The sisters of Master Sgt. Debra Clayton