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Presentation shows deputy stayed outside as students died

September 5, 2018

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — The commission investigating the Florida high school massacre saw a presentation Wednesday demonstrating the inaction of the sheriff’s deputy assigned to the campus, showing he stayed outside the building where the shooting happened as students and teachers were gunned down.

The presentation to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission combined an animation showing the gunman’s and victims’ movements during the Feb. 14 shooting, security video of Broward Sheriff’s Deputy Scot Peterson and recordings of his calls to dispatchers. All have been previously released, but this was the first time they have been played simultaneously.

The presentation indicated that at least six of the 17 killed and many of the 17 wounded had not been shot when Peterson arrived outside the three-story freshman building. But instead of entering, he drew his handgun and stayed outside, taking cover next to an adjoining building. At one point, Peterson was feet outside a door into the building while just inside the door suspect Nikolas Cruz was fatally shooting athletic director Chris Hixon and assistant football coach Aaron Feis, the presentation showed. Cruz then continued up to the second and third floors, reloading several times, as he shot more people, according to the presentation.

At one point, bullets were flying out a window directly above Peterson’s head. He radioed dispatchers that shots were being fired inside the building and told them to tell deputies responding to the scene to stay 500 feet back and close down the surrounding streets. He later contradicted that, telling investigators he wasn’t sure where the shots were coming from. Peterson retired shortly after the shooting. He has been subpoenaed to testify before the commission next month.

All victims were shot within three minutes.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, the commission’s chairman, said Peterson had a duty to enter the building and try to kill Cruz, a 19-year-old former Stoneman Douglas student, and would have had the opportunity every time Cruz reloaded his AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.

“I really don’t think anybody could have done anything about the initial shots on the first floor — that happened so fast. But (Cruz) went to the second floor and he went to the third floor,” he said.

Commissioner Max Schachter, whose 14-year-old son Alex died in the shooting, called Peterson a “coward.”

“He heard our children being killed and he ran away,” Schachter said. “He let our children be slaughtered. He did nothing...I hope he rots in hell.”

Earlier, the commission voted 9-5 to recommend that at least one police officer be assigned to each of the state’s public high and middle schools, but elementary schools could be protected by an armed security guard or non-teaching staff member. Commissioners overwhelmingly rejected a proposal that all schools have at least one police officer after opponents argued that was unrealistic because of the cost and the unavailability of officers as the state’s police departments and sheriff’s offices already have thousands of openings, without adding the need to staff schools. The commission was told that it would cost about $400 million annually to place at least one police officer at the state’s approximately 4,000 public schools — about half are elementary schools. Currently, there are about 1,350 officers assigned to the state’s schools, with some schools having two or more.

Many of the state’s 67 districts already have at least one police officer assigned to every high and middle school. After the shooting, the state passed a requirement that every school have armed protection but can choose between police, also known as school resource officers, security guards and trained non-teaching staff members.

Gualtieri told members he doesn’t believe the Legislature, counties and school boards would be willing to pay the cost of putting a police officer in every school. If the commission wanted to be realistic, it could not recommend that schools depend solely on police officers, Gualtieri said.

But Brevard County School Superintendent Desmond Blackburn said the commission shouldn’t let the Legislature “off the hook” as the cost of putting an officer at every school represents less than a half a percent of the state’s nearly $90 billion budget. He decried allowing elementary schools being defended by anything less than a police officer, saying the youngest students are the most defenseless.

He said if every Florida courthouse, nuclear power plant and stadium can have police protection when open, so can every school, and armed guards and staff members should supplement officers, not replace them.

The commission is composed of law enforcement, school and mental health officials, a legislator and the fathers of two victims. It is charged with investigating the shooting while also making recommendations in a report due Jan. 1 to the Legislature and next governor on what can be done to prevent the next school shooting.

Cruz’s attorneys have said he would plead guilty to first-degree murder in exchange for a life sentence. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

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