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As criticism flows on the Broward County Sheriff’s Office over its response to the Stoneman Douglas shooting, the school resource officer who failed to go into the building while students were being killed is fighting back.
In statements released Monday by his lawyer, now-former deputy Scot Peterson said the first information he received about the Feb. 14 attack was “a call of firecrackers” heard on campus.
After running toward Building 12, he said he recognized they were gunshots, but thought they were being fired outdoors, according to the statement.
Sheriff’s training, he said, dictates that “in the event of outdoor gunfire, one is to seek cover and assess the situation.”
So Peterson says he took up a “tactical position” in a corridor between two buildings, about 40 yards from the east side of Building 12.
The first backup officer he saw was from Coral Springs police and, Peterson said, that officer also did not go into the building. Instead, he took up a tactical position behind a tree with his rifle, Peterson recalled.
BSO has been criticized after some responders claim they saw three deputies taking cover behind their cars, reportedly in some cases while shots were being fired in the building.
But Sheriff Scott Israel has said other officers did not make it to the scene until after the firing had stopped.
At one point, Peterson spoke on police radio about a “perimeter” – possibly, Israel said, leading some responders to believe they were to stay outside at that point to set up a perimeter.
One eyewitness account to the early stages of the attack said it appeared to him Peterson had his attention frozen on the 1200 Building – and not on finding the source of what he now claims he through was outdoor gunfire.
Brendan Huff, a senior who ran toward the building after his girlfriend texted him about the shooting, said he saw Peterson taking cover behind the wall in that corridor, pointing his handgun at the closed door of Building 12, as if preparing to fire if the shooter emerged from those doors.
“He was taking cover behind that wall with his gun drawn, pointing it towards the 1200 building,” Huff said. “You could hear gunshots going off in the freshman building so I figured maybe they were shooting at each other.”
If Peterson ever thought the gunfire was from outside, Jeff Bell, president of the union representing Broward deputies, said it would not take long to realize the shots were fired inside.
“While that may be true for the first one or two rounds, when you’re approaching round 100, 110 and 120 – you’re going to know where those gunshots are coming from,” Bell said.
Just when other officers arrived as back up is not yet publically known.
But based on sheriff’s and Coral Springs records, this is where the timeline stands as of this moment on Feb. 14:
2:21:22 — Shooting Begins.
2:22:40 — Coral Springs Gets its First 911 Call.
2:27:37 — Cruz, Done Firing, Drops Rifle and Starts to Flee.
2:28:16 — Coral Springs Fire/Rescue on Scene.
2:28:35 — Radio Traffic Reveals One Victim Being Assisted Outside by an Apparent BSO Deputy.
That is the exact same second the shooter ran outside Building 12, blending in with terrified former classmates to escape.
Twenty-five seconds later – at 2:29 – two apparent Broward deputies say on the radio they are going into a building – Building 13, they say.
It may not have been the building where the dead and wounded were by then lying, but it is clear from radio traffic that at least those deputies did not stay outside and take cover behind their vehicles, as some have alleged about other BSO deputies.