Schools were locked down, roads closed and two law enforcement officers were dead today as a month-long hunt for a murder suspect escalated.
Markeith D. Loyd, accused of killing his partner last month, shot Sgt. Debra Clayton multiple times outside a Walmart near the Pine Hills area Monday, police said.
That wasn’t the end of the violence: An unnamed sheriff’s deputy died in a traffic accident and another barely dodged a bullet while police searched for Loyd.
A witness told ABC affiliate WFTV that Clayton, a 17-year police veteran, had just finished shopping at the Walmart when a customer told her a wanted man was inside the store.
“I heard her tell him: Stop,” James Herman told WFTV. “He shot her down and he took off running. He didn’t have to do that.”
Police had been looking for Loyd since Dec. 13, when he allegedly shot and killed his ex-girlfriend and wounded her brother, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Sade Dixon, 24, died three months pregnant.
Clayton was shot twice in the chest and once in the abdomen outside the Walmart, WFTV reported. Her heart stopped in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. Paramedics briefly revived her, but a flag-covered gurney was wheeled out of a hospital later Monday morning. Rows of police officers watched it pass and saluted.
“Oh God!!!” Orlando commissioner Regina Hill wrote on Facebook. “Please pray for my OPD Liaison. She’s been shot down in Pinehills.”
A large swath of the area was cordoned off as police hunted the suspect, considered armed and extremely dangerous.
But the manhunt itself later turned dangerous.
After fleeing from the Walmart, Loyd fired at a deputy who spotted his vehicle, Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said at a news conference.
The deputy’s vehicle was struck, but the deputy was not wounded.
Another deputy, who has not been named, was killed when an SUV struck his motorcycle while officers were searching for Loyd, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
According to WFTV, Loyd allegedly carjacked a vehicle after the mayhem and escaped again.
Clayton was one of the first officers who responded to the Pulse nightclub shooting last June, arriving minutes after 911 calls came in about shots fired, according to police records.
The Orlando officer, who local stations reported was married with two children, appears to be the first law enforcement official fatally shot this year.
Her death comes after a year that saw a surge in the number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty, a toll pushed upward by an increase in deadly shootings and ambush attacks.
These shootings included high-profile attacks in Dallas and Baton Rouge that left a combined eight officers dead, ambushes that rattled law enforcement officers nationwide at a time of tension between police and the communities they serve.
While statistics show a steep drop in the number of line-of-duty deaths since the 1970s, officers and others in law enforcement have said in recent years that they are increasingly on edge amid protests against how police use deadly force and concerned about the public perception of police. Others have expressed concerns about antigovernment attackers targeting law enforcement and the number of guns available on the streets today.
Last year, 64 police officers were killed in shootings, up from 41 the year before, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, a nonprofit group that monitors line-of-duty deaths.
Gunfire was the common factor in nearly half of the 135 law enforcement deaths in 2016, the highest percentage of such deaths in more than two decades. Before 2016, it was more common in recent years for officers to die in traffic accidents than shootings.
Ambushes were behind an unusually high share of these deaths, with nearly 1 in 3 officers fatally shot in such an attack. The surge in officers killed by gunfire last year was the largest on record, up 56 percent over the previous year, according to data from the memorial fund.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Avi Selk, Mark Berman