Orlando tragedy: Two officers remembered

Posted at 9:06 AM, Jan 10, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-10 09:06:52-05

(CNN) — One officer was a mother known for working with youth in the Orlando community.

The other was a hulking former college football player known as “Big Norm.”

On Monday morning, Orlando police Master Sgt. Debra Clayton, 42, was shot to death. A few hours later, Norman Lewis, a deputy first class with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, was killed in an auto accident while searching for Clayton’s assailant.

The deaths are a double tragedy for a community still recovering from the Pulse nightclub shooting that left 49 dead in June.

“To lose two law enforcement officers on this Law Enforcement Officer Appreciation Day is indeed a tragedy,” Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said.

Here’s what we know about the two officers.

Debra Clayton

Clayton was killed Monday morning while trying to arrest Markeith Loyd, a murder suspect, outside a Walmart, police have said.

She grew up in the Orlando area and had worked 17 years for the police department, Police Chief John Mina said.

Clayton earned two degrees from the University of Central Florida, a bachelor’s degree in public administration and a master’s in criminal justice, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

Her cousin, Jonathan Thomas, told the Sentinel that Clayton had long been interested in police work.

“It was her passion,” he said. “She wanted to be a police officer so she could do good and get bad people off the streets.”

Mina said Clayton devoted herself to helping youth.

“She did so many different projects in the community.,” he said. “She organized several marches against violence by herself.”

Clayton was involved in Operation Positive Direction, he said. That’s a youth mentoring program that helps middle and high school students “who face social, economic and academic challenges in an effort to set them on successful paths for their future,” the city website said.

“She personally traveled and mentored kids in this area and went on trips to Washington, D.C., and other parts of the country,” Mina said.

“Debra Clayton is a hero,” Mina said, “and she gave her life protecting the community that she loved.”

Teresa Sokolovic said Clayton was a faithful friend, staying with her two days last year after Sokolovic had surgery.

“I didn’t know anyone with a bigger heart,” Sokolovic told the Sentinel. “She was an angel.”

Norman Lewis

Lewis was killed in an auto accident about 2½ hours after Clayton was shot. As a massive manhunt for the shooting suspect was underway, Lewis was driving a motorcycle when a motorist turned in front of him, Demings said.

Lewis had worked 11 years with the sheriff’s department, mostly in the traffic division. He also graduated from the University of Central Florida, playing in the offensive line on the school football team from 2000-2003 and graduating in 2004 with a degree in criminal justice, CNN affiliate WFTV reported.

Orlando attorney Brian Sandor met Lewis while both were students at UCF. They remained friends.

“‘Big Norm’ was known as much for his infectious ear-to-ear smile as he was his 6-foot-3, nearly 300-pound towering frame,” Sandor said. “His smile and laugh took over any room he was in.”

Sandor said he would run into Lewis in the courtroom and other spots.

“I’ll miss our time goofing off in court during recesses,” Sandor said. “He always made long breaks fly by. However, what I will miss the most is my friend and a man who I knew was always ready to protect this entire community.”

Kyle Israel, who played quarterback at UCF, posted his thoughts on Facebook:

“R.I.P. BIG Norm. You were always a great ambassador for the UCF football program and a guy teammates always loved! Can’t believe catching up with each other two weeks ago was going to be the last time. You will be missed my friend.”

Kim Montes of the Florida Highway Patrol told WFTV that Lewis was a loyal officer.

“He did his job every day and I think the public needs to know whether it’s doing mundane (tasks) or looking for the worst person possible, we are out there doing our jobs, and that’s what he was doing,” Montes said.