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The disgraced Florida sheriff’s deputy who stayed outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as a killer stalked its halls has spent the 90 days since the massacre wondering why he failed to save lives, according to a report.
“It’s haunting,” Scot Peterson said in a Washington Post report published Monday. “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.”
Since the Valentine’s Day attack at the Parkland school — where 17 people were killed and 17 more injured — Peterson has lost his job with the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, been dubbed the “Coward of Broward” in local media and been served with a lawsuit from a parent whose daughter died in the shooting.
According to the newspaper, he now spends most of his days hiding in the duplex he shares with his girlfriend, armed with a motion detector and a sheet covering his front door, replaying every minute of the shooting.
He’s rewatched surveillance footage, read witness statements and studied dozens of pages of documents, trying to figure out what happened.
“There wasn’t even time to think,” Peterson recalled. “It just happened and I started reacting.”
Prior to the shooting, the former school resource officer mostly chased down stolen cellphones, confiscated weed and broke up the occasional fight. He’d previously worked as a corrections officer and as a road officer arriving at the scenes of fatal crashes.
Peterson had gone to annual conferences about school shootings, taken a class on confronting active shooters and led lockdown trainings for teachers — but in the moment, he didn’t know how to react.
As the lone deputy at the school, he had been armed and on duty the day Nikolas Cruz walked in with an AR-15 and allegedly opened fire on his classmates and teachers.
That day, a “possible firecracker” call came in through the radio at 2:21 p.m. from a school security guard.
When Peterson approached the building the firecrackers were supposedly coming from, he heard what sounded more like two gunshots and cleared the area. He also called in a “Code Red” to lock down the school and picked up his police radio at 2:23 p.m. to call in a possible shooter.
He remembers staying in place because he didn’t want to expose himself — as he didn’t know where the shots were coming from or if a sniper was lurking nearby.
The 911 calls from students explaining where they and the gunman were had been routed to the Coral Springs Police Department, whose officers weren’t yet on the scene.
Already six minutes into the massacre, the last victim had been shot and Peterson and some fellow officers were still trying to figure out where the gunman was.
Cruz had dropped his gun near a stairwell and then headed out of the building, blending in with the crowd of frantic students.
Peterson had met Cruz before, once telling him he couldn’t wear a backpack printed with Nazi and racist symbols and even suggesting that counselors used Florida’s Baker Act to have the future school shooter involuntarily committed.
“I couldn’t get him,” Peterson remembered telling his girlfriend that day. “It was my job, and I didn’t find him.”
Peterson wonders why he only heard two shots — of the more than 150 rounds fired — and whether he would have been able to locate the shooter if he’d heard more.
“I was right outside. I could have come in over here,” he said, as he watched an animation of the crime scene on his computer. “I could have got him while he was reloading. If I’d just heard more shots, maybe I would have known where they were coming from.”
“It was all so fast,” he said. “I couldn’t piece it all together.”
Even after all the rehashing, Peterson still can’t answer the question: “Why didn’t I go in?”
I'm sure a lot of people want the answer to that question.