How one life touched so many: Debra Clayton was devoted to church, mentor to youth

She was active in her church and loved by the community.  

Master Sgt. Debra Clayton, an officer with the Orlando Police Department, was fatally shot on Monday after she approached a man wanted for questioning in the shooting death of his pregnant ex-girlfriend last month.  

Clayton, 42, will be remembered most as a wife and mother who was devoted to God and as a youth mentor.

She was member of the Winning Souls for the Kingdom Church in Auburndale and her loss has left the church devastated. 

For Bishop Jeffrey Bradley and his wife, Apostle Lizelle Bradley, Clayton wasn’t just  a police officer.  She was active in the church, steadfast in her faith and a woman of God.

“She was a born leader.  She came in, and she came to implement and to add to what we had in church and she was the type of the person,” said Jeffrey.

“She was just trying to stop the violence, and that’s who Debra was. She was just a person that she cared for young people, she cared for the things that was right,” added Lizelle.

The pastors shared with us a photograph that they took with Clayton and her husband, just last year.  It was taken right after they were married at the church, before a beautiful ceremony in Jamaica.   They say waking up to news off her tragic death was difficult. 

“I just spoke with her on Thursday night, and to wake up this morning and she’s not here, it's hard,” Lizelle said.

“I believe, in all my heart, that where she’s going I already know, but just her presence being there, being able to know that she made a difference in the community and in peoples’ lives,” Jeffrey said, was tough.

While her pastors know the wife, mother and 17-year veteran OPD officer is in a better place, they say it doesn’t make it any easier for her husband, son and their church family. 

“Our prayers are for him now and her husband, that they can seek strength to go beyond this now, because Debra is going to truly be missed,” Lizelle said.

The void left by Clayton is felt not only by her church family, but also by the community she served. 

At the Parramore Kidz Zone, city officials said Clayton was well-known for her work with middle schoolers. Orlando City Commissioner Regina Hill said Clayton is what every law enforcement officer should be.

The official photo of Clayton shows the OPD member smiling, wearing her crisp, dark uniform, but that's not all there was to this dedicated officer.

“When we say 21st century policing, that was Debra,” said Hill.  “She was always looking to know what she could do to help youth in the neighborhood or bring peace to the streets.”

OPD also tweeted a photo of Clayton with the students at the Parramore Kidz Zone.  Commissioner Hill worked with Clayton for three years and said she loved to help with the holidays.

“Myself and the other liaison were out in the community giving away turkeys,” Hill recalled. “She got in her car and went through the neighborhood on her megaphone telling people where to come and get the turkey dinners.”

Hill said it was not something Clayton had to do, but that was who she was,  and she added that the work Clayton did will live on in the community.

“That wasn't part of policing, but she did it, because she cared, truly cared about the community,” Hill said. “She was a very brave person, she had a million-dollar smile and a heart of gold. A heart of gold.”

Clayton received several awards for her community work.  We talked to two children who said she made a big difference in their lives.

Vance and Vionn Welcome became friends with Clayton through the Dueling Dragons program, where both officers and at-risk kids compete in dragon boat races. 

"Talked to her about anything. She'd give great advice, she'd give great life scenarios, she'd taught you about life, what you wanted to do after college. She was just an all around swell person," Vionn said.

His brother Vance agreed, adding, "She was a great teammate, she was a great friend."

But after all these years, they never thought they would lose their mentor.  

"Speechless," was how Vance described his reaction after hearing of Clayton' death.  "Just devastated, I guess."

"Absolutely devastated, heartbroken, because she was such a wonderful role model and leader in the community," Vionn said of his reaction to the tragic news. 

The boys mother, Adrianne, said they recently seen Clayton at a community meeting to curb violence.

"She spent so much time talking to the kids, to the teenagers. Every time she talks the kids just listen and they're all ears because she's so inspirational," she said. 

Even though she's gone, these children plan to continue their mentor's mission.

"Carry on her legacy. What she dreamed about. Not only about us coming together as kids, but as a community," Vionn said.