Roundly vilified for not entering a Parkland high school during a mass shooting, Broward Deputy Scot Peterson insisted publicly that he believed that gunfire was happening outside on campus — not inside the building.
But internal radio dispatches released by the Broward Sheriff’s Office Thursday show Peterson immediately fixated on Building 12 and even radioed that gunfire was happening “inside.”
And, just as school shooter Nikolas Cruz was fleeing the building after killing 17 people, Peterson warned his fellow officers to stay away — even as wounded students and staff lay inside.
BSO policy calls for deputies to engage an active shooter and eliminate the threat.
“Do not approach the 12 or 1300 building, stay at least 500 feet away,” a panicked Peterson shouted as people screamed in the background.
The second-by-second timeline and audio recording of police radio chatter sheds new light on the chaotic and much scrutinized law enforcement response to the bloodshed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High on Feb. 14, the state’s worst school shooting.
The records appear to support Broward Sheriff Scott Israel’s contention that Peterson, a longtime school resource officer, should have entered Building 12 to engage Cruz and try to prevent deaths. They also appear to show that other deputies may have refrained from rushing into the school at the direction of Peterson and a Parkland captain. The response by the agency has been the subject of national scrutiny, and is currently under review by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Jeff Bell, the president of BSO’s police union, welcomed the release of the audio and timeline
“It certainly backs up that he never went into the school,” Bell said of Peterson. “At one point he says to keep back 500 feet. Why would he say that?”
The Broward Sheriff’s Office pieced together the timeline through radio dispatches from Broward and Coral Springs police and video surveillance from the school. Attempts to reach BSO for comment Thursday were unsuccessful.
According to the timeline, this is what happened:
Cruz was dropped off at the school by an Uber at 2:19 p.m. Two minutes later, he entered Building 12. He began firing within 15 seconds. Peterson, at the time, was near the administration building.
At 2:22 p.m. the fire alarm was triggered, blaring throughout the entire campus. The first 911 call also went out, via Coral Springs emergency dispatch center.
“Be advised we have possible, could be firecrackers. I think we have shots fired, possible shots fired —1200 building,” Peterson radioed at 2:23 p.m.
At that moment, according to the video, Peterson arrived at the southeast corner of Building 12, where he appeared to remain “for the duration of the incident.” “We’re talking about the 1200 building, it’s going to be the building off Holmberg Road,” Peterson said frantically seconds later.
“Get the school locked down, gentlemen!” he shouted.
As the shots intensified, other deputies began racing to the scene, radioing in. One believed he heard shots by the football field, something Peterson mentioned in a statement released last month by his attorney, arguing that the school resource deputy thought shots were coming from outside the 1200 building.
“BSO trains its officers that in the event of outdoor gunfire one is to seek cover and assess the situation in order to communicate what one observes with other law enforcement,” Peterson’s attorney said.
But Peterson, according to the timeline and radio dispatches reviewed by the Miami Herald, remained focused on Building 12.
“All right... We also heard it’s by, inside the 1200,” Peterson said at 2:25 p.m.
Joseph DiRuzzo, Peterson’s attorney, did not respond to an email and a call to his office. Peterson resigned eight days after the shooting rather than be suspended without pay pending an internal affairs investigation.
As the shooting progressed, calls began “blowing up” the 911 call centers. Students were spilling out of the campus. Peterson radioed to make sure “no one comes inside the school.”
At 2:27 p.m., six minutes after Cruz went into Building 12, the shooting stopped. Cruz ditched his AR-15 in the third-floor stairwell and left.
Five seconds later, Peterson radioed for officers to “stay at least 500 feet away at this point.” A dispatcher repeated, “Stay away from 12 and 1300 building.”
Coral Springs officer Tim Burton had just arrived at Douglas High. At 2:28 p.m., he radioed out the first description of Cruz: “White male with ROTC Uniform Burgundy Shirt” — exactly what the shooter was wearing when he was arrested later. How Burton obtained the information was unclear from the timeline.
At 2:29 p.m., as officers began encountering wounded students, Burton met with Peterson outside Building 12.
The chaos continued. Deputies tried getting into Building 13 next door, but it was locked. A fleeing student appeared to be stuck in a fence; a deputy asked for bolt cutters. One deputy called for a command post to be set up.
“We need to get units in here so we can try to find this guy,” a deputy radioed.
At 2:31 p.m., BSO Capt. Jan Jordan, whose supervision of the response has also been scrutinized amid questions about whether she slowed police response by ordering a perimeter, speaks for the first time: “Do we have a perimeter set up right now and everyone cleared out of the school?”
“That’s negative,” a dispatcher responds.
It was at 2:32 — 11 minutes after the shooting began — that four Coral Springs officers and two BSO deputies made the first police entrance into the building, helping to “extract a victim.”
Jordan is back on the radio one minute later: “I want to make sure that we have a perimeter set up (unintelligible), all the kids are getting out, but we need to shut down around this school.”
By 2:35 p.m., officers were seen transporting a victim on a golf cart. One minute after that, 10 officers burst into Building 12 through an east-side entrance.
Down the street, Cruz had entered a Walmart and bought a drink at the Subway inside. At 3:40 p.m., a Coconut Creek officer saw Cruz and arrested him without incident. Cruz was indicted Wednesday on 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted murder.
The Broward Sheriff’s Office released the timeline Thursday following weeks of mounting pressure to make the details of its police response public. The Miami Herald, South Florida Sun-Sentinel and CNN sued the agency last month to force it to release surveillance video outside of the 1200 building, and their lawyers argued in court Thursday that it was in the public interest to release the footage.
Also Thursday, the sheriff’s office released 911 calls received by dispatchers and police documents related to its handling of calls to Cruz’s various addresses detailing his family’s troubled domestic life.
The sheriff’s office tweeted about the case Thursday evening.
“BSO agreed in court today with the media that surveillance video from outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High should be released publicly. Legal exemptions block the release unless a judge approves. The judge took it under advisement and we hope for a ruling shortly.”