The police officer assigned to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School resigned Thursday, under investigation for failing to enter the building as a gunman opened fire and killed 17 people.
Sheriff Scott Israel said Deputy Scot Peterson should have “went in. Addressed the killer. Killed the killer.” Video footage showed Peterson did none of that, Israel said.
The sheriff’s office also said Thursday that two deputies were put under investigation for how they handled potential warnings about Cruz, including one from November in which a caller said Cruz ““could be a school shooter in the making.”
Peterson, 54, came under scrutiny after 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz entered a school building with an AR-15 rifle and killed 14 students and three educators on Valentine’s Day. Cruz later confessed, police said.
The sheriff said Peterson was outside the building for “upwards of four minutes” while students were gunned down inside.
“What I saw was a deputy arrive … take up a position and he never went in,” the sheriff said at a news conference. “There are no words. I mean these families lost their children. We lost coaches,” Israel said.
Peterson resigned, and subsequently retired, at 12:37 p.m. Thursday after he was suspended without pay earlier in the day, Israel said. An investigation into what happened will continue.
Peterson’s resignation ends a more than three-decade career with the agency, where he was often regarded by peers as a dependable employee who could communicate well with both staff and students.
The 6-foot-5-inch native of Illinois started with the agency in July 1985, after studying at Miami-Dade Community College and Florida International University, according to records released Thursday by the sheriff’s office.
Peterson had been a school resource officer at Stoneman Douglas since 2009. He was considered a trusted officer who “values his position and takes pride in protecting the students, faculty and staff at his school,” a 2017 performance review said.
His annual salary in 2016 was $75,673.72, according to sheriff’s office records, but he made $101,013 that year with overtime and other compensation. Peterson has been the subject of two internal investigations, neither of which resulted in significant discipline.
Soon after the shooting took place, Israel and Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie were forced to answer questions about where Peterson was during the shooting and why he did not confront Cruz.
“I’m in shock and I’m outraged to no end that he could have made a difference in all this,” Runcie said Thursday. “It’s really disturbing that we had a law enforcement individual there specifically for this reason, and he did not engage. He did not do his job. It’s one of the most unbelievable things I’ve ever heard.”
Stoneman Douglas student Brandon Huff, 18, a senior, said he had seen Peterson standing outside the building and talking on his radio during the shooting.
Huff said he first learned of the shooting in a text message from his girlfriend, who said she was hiding in a corner and shots rang out.
“Two coaches went in and were shielding kids and throwing themselves in front of bullets and he did nothing.”
Peterson could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon at his home in Boynton Beach. Neighbor Nelson Sandy said he saw Peterson leave his house around 3 p.m., driving his work vehicle and accompanied by at least two Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office deputies driving their work vehicles.
“They were here today, three police officers and they all left together,” Sandy said.
Felicia Burgin, a ninth-grade English teacher, was locked in her classroom with students on the second floor of the building, as they heard shots from the floor above.
She said the criticism of Peterson is unfair. Peterson wouldn’t have stood a chance against the gunman in hallways that were filled with students at the time, she said.
“There is no one that is going to tell you a negative thing about Deputy Peterson,” she said. “He was an Eagle and he was committed to our school. I don’t know what he could have done other than literally died.”
The two deputies, Edward Eason and Guntis Treijs, were put on a restricted assignment Thursday.
Col. Jack Dale, head of the agency’s internal investigations unit, said the deputies were under review for how they handled two calls, including the one from November where the caller also said Cruz “was collecting guns and knives,” according to documents released by the sheriff’s office. A deputy followed up with the caller but did not create a report documenting it.
A separate incident, from February 2016, was also under review. The sheriff’s office said a deputy responded to a tip that Cruz planned to shoot up a school and that the information was forwarded to Peterson, the school resource officer.
Israel said the agency was involved in 23 calls involving Cruz or his brother Zachary since 2008.
Eason started with the agency in 2000 and Treijs in 2002, according to state records. Both will be paid during the investigation.
The reports to the sheriff’s office are the latest acknowledgment from officials that there were concerns about Cruz before last week’s shooting. The FBI said it did not investigate a tip involving Cruz, from January, and in another case said it was alerted in September about a YouTube comment that could have led to Cruz.
“It’s unclear as to whether a policy violation occurred or not, so we feel at this point that they deserve extra scrutiny and to be reviewed and investigated,” Dale said.
(Staff writers Brian Ballou, Aric Chokey, Anne Geggis and Susannah Bryan contributed to this story.)
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