The disgraced cop who stood with his back against a wall as a gunman slaughtered students and staff inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School broke his silence this week in an interview with the Washington Post.
Former Broward County Sheriffs Deputy Scot Peterson said his inaction during the Valentine’s Day shooting in Parkland, Florida “haunts” him daily, even though he rejects the labels of “coward” and “failure.”
“How can they keep saying I did nothing?” he said. “I’m getting on the radio to call in the shooting. I’m locking down the school. I’m clearing kids out of the courtyard. They have the video and the call logs. The evidence is sitting right there.”
Peterson said the timeline unfolded on that fateful afternoon with a call for possible fireworks in the 1200 Building. When he arrived on the scene a minute later, Peterson said he heard a few gunshots and took cover, ordering the school into lock down mode and calling for back-up. He said radio malfunctions meant no one knew exactly what awaited inside.
“I was trying to figure it out,” Peterson said. “I was scanning for the shooter, looking over the windows, the sidewalk, the rooftop. I thought maybe it was a sniper like in Las Vegas. I just didn’t know.”
“If I heard more shots, I might have known where to find him,” he added. “If I knew where he was, I could have gone in.”
The gunman, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, murdered 17 and wounded 17 others during the nearly seven-minute rampage. He shot just under half of the victims as Peterson stood outside, perched against a wall and scanning for signs of a shooter.
The lackluster response, caught on the school’s security footage, led Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel to push Peterson into retirement with a six-figure pension — lest he face indefinite suspension without pay. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement soon opened an investigation into BSO’s botched response as state and federal lawmakers called for Israel’s removal.
Peterson, who’d spent more than a decade policing the 45-acre campus of Stoneman Douglas, said he turns over scenarios in his mind everyday of the actions he didn’t take. He told the Washington Post he knew Cruz and had tried — in vain — to discourage the teen from carrying a backpack littered with Nazi insignia and racial slurs. He said school administrators ignored incidents that brought Cruz’s mental stability into question — such as when he drank gasoline — and insisted he didn’t qualify for involuntary psychiatric commitment under Florida’s Baker Act.
“I’ve cut that day up a thousand ways with a million different what-if scenarios, but the bottom line is I was there to protect, and I lost 17,” Peterson said.
Parents of students at the school, however, expressed little sympathy for Peterson in interviews with the Miami Herald this week.
“I’m tired of him trying to paint himself as the victim,” said Fred Guttenberg, the father of 14-year-old Jaime Guttenberg. “He is not a victim. He created victims. He keeps referring to them as his kids. They are not your kids, Scot Peterson! You let them die!”
“He keeps mentioning the third floor. If he had done his job, this killing wouldn’t have made it to the third floor,” he continued. “Those people who lost their lives, including my daughter, are victims of his inability to do his job; victims of his failure.”
Andrew Pollack, who’s 18-year-old daughter Meadow died in the attack, told the newspaper it’s hard to believe Peterson meant to intervene at all. “I think the whole country knows he didn’t do his job and this interview was his way of him trying to live with it,” he said. “He’s just a liar. It’s all on tape.”