-- For Master Sgt. Debra Clayton, Orlando was not only the community she helped protect every day for 17 years, it was her hometown.
And throughout her career, she not only served as an officer in the community she "deeply cared" about, but as a volunteer who loved to help children as well as a mentor, police said.
Orlando Police Chief John Mina said he had known Clayton, who has a college-age son, for her entire career there and called her a "hero" who "gave her life protecting the community that she loves."
"There's no one more passionate about the community she serves," Mina said.
The chief said that Clayton was "involved in many community engagement efforts and was always the first to step up and volunteer and help kids."
"She was trying to do her part to make this community safer," Mina added. "She's going to be forever missed."
Clayton had been with the Orlando Police Department since 1999 and was promoted to Master Sergeant last year, the police said. She "deeply cared" about the community, the police said.
Her record was full of accolades and praise for her commitment to the Orlando Police Department, where she was well-known for her thoroughness and professionalism, according to department documents.
She and another officer were lauded in a 2005 letter to the Orlando police chief after they arrested someone for alleged weapons and drug possession.
"I am sure that usually, you only hear from people about the bad things that happen with your officers," Mark Simpson, who worked for the Orlando Housing Authority at Ivey Lane Homes, wrote in the letter to the chief. "I am happy to say that I have been extremely happy with all the officers that I have come in contact with.
"Their actions got a bad guy and his drugs off the street," Simpson wrote. "My thanks to you, and your officers for continuing to do an often thankless job and for caring the way they do about their work. You have a lot to be proud of."
Clayton was also recognized for her work on a number of “highly successful” community service projects as a part of the Special Enforcement Section, including an Easter egg hunt, a Halloween party, job fair and a law enforcement torch run for the Special Olympics.
In the Summer of 2000, Clayton and the SES team coordinated the “Kicks for Guns” event, which allowed Orlando residents to trade in their guns for a pair of new sneakers. The department recovered some 100 guns through that effort.
Clayton is the first Orlando police officer to die in the line of duty in nearly a decade, the Orlando Police Department said. The last time an Orlando police officer was killed in the line of duty was Oct. 4, 2007, when Officer Al Gordon was gunned down in a robbery, not too far from where he lived, police said.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer expressed his condolences for Clayton and declared today an official day of mourning in the city.
“[S]he will be missed as a mother, wife, daughter and sister. I share my condolences and prayers with her family and I know the entire City and this community will support the family in any way that we can,” Dyer said. “To the men and women of OPD, I and the entire City Council, stand with you and are here to support you during this difficult time.”