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‘He shot her down’: Two officers dead in Orlando manhunt for murder suspect

Orlando police carry the casket of an officer fatally shot in the line of duty on Monday, Jan. 9. The fallen officer, Sgt. Debra Clayton, was shot multiple times outside a Walmart near the Pine Hills area this morning, police said. The suspected shooter is on the loose. (Video: Twitter/Orlando Police)

Schools were locked down, roads closed and two law enforcement officers died near Orlando on Monday, as a month-long hunt closed in on a murder suspect and turned violent.

Accused of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend last month, Markeith D. Loyd shot Sgt. Debra Clayton multiple times when she confronted him outside a Walmart near the Pine Hills area west of Orlando, police said. Loyd then fled the scene and remains at large.

That wasn’t the end of the violence: A sheriff’s deputy was struck and killed by a sport-utility vehicle while responding to the shooting, and another deputy took fire while trying to stop Loyd’s presumed getaway vehicle.

Hours later — as hundreds of local, state and federal officers scoured streets and apartment blocks — Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings looked into a bank of TV cameras and urged Loyd to turn himself in.

“Otherwise this is going to be a very, very risky operation for all of us,” he said.

The mayhem began early in the morning — apparently when a 17-year police veteran went shopping at a Walmart in the Pine Hills area.

A witness told ABC affiliate WFTV that Clayton, a married mother of two, was putting her bags in her trunk when a customer walked up and told her a wanted man was inside the store.

Police had been looking for Loyd since Dec. 13, the day he allegedly shot and killed his pregnant ex-girlfriend and wounded her brother, according to the Orlando Sentinel. He was considered armed and dangerous.

Clayton turned back toward the Walmart just as the suspect walked out, James Herman told WFTV.

“I heard her tell him: Stop,” Herman said.  “He shot her down and he took off running.”

The suspect fired backward as he ran, the witness said.

Clayton was shot twice in the chest and once in the abdomen, WFTV reported. Her heart stopped in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. Paramedics briefly revived her, but a flag-covered gurney was later wheeled out of the hospital as police officers lined up to salute it.

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“Oh God!!!” Orlando commissioner Regina Hill wrote on Facebook. “Please pray for my OPD Liaison. She’s been shot down in Pinehills.”

A massive manhunt was underway for the man who police say shot and killed an Orlando police officer. (Video: Reuters)

In the early scramble for the suspect, an Orange County sheriff’s deputy on a motorcycle was struck by a vehicle.

“He squeezed my hand. His arm was going cold,” a witness who tried to save the deputy told WFTV. “I thought he was going to make it.”

The deputy died of his injuries. His name was being withheld until his family is notified.

Another deputy spotted a speeding vehicle that matched the description of Loyd’s, and made a U-turn to pursue it, Sheriff Demings said at a news conference.

The driver opened fire, the sheriff said, hitting the deputy’s vehicle but not harming him.

According to WFTV, Loyd allegedly carjacked a vehicle and escaped again.

Large swaths of the Pine Hills area were cordoned off as officers hunted for Loyd.

After several hours, the Orlando Sentinel reported that SWAT police had surrounded an apartment and were calling Loyd out — rifles ready and helicopters circling.

“He will be brought to justice,” Orlando Police Chief John Mina told reporters at the news conference. “I can assure the community of that.”

But more hours passed with no sign of Loyd, as the searchers roved across the city. A reward for his capture was increased to $60,000, and authorities warned that anyone helping him hide would be prosecuted.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer declared an official day of mourning. Florida Gov. Rick Scott prayed. City officials and law enforcement officers wept openly in front of TV cameras.

Clayton was one of the first officers who responded to the Pulse nightclub shooting in June, arriving minutes after 911 calls came in about shots fired, according to police records.

The Orlando officer appears to be the first law enforcement official fatally shot this year.

Her death comes after a surge last year 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.

Ambushes and fatal shootings fuel increase in police death toll this year

Although 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 concern about anti-government attackers targeting law enforcement officers and the number of guns available on the streets.

Last year, 65 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 136 law enforcement deaths in 2016, according to the group, the highest percentage 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.

This post has been updated.

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