A damning new timeline of the Florida high-school shooting shows how badly the armed deputy screwed up

Kristi Gilroy, right, hugs a young woman at a police checkpoint near Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Mark Wilson/Getty
  • The Broward County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday released a timeline with internal radio dispatches and video-surveillance records that reveals how deputies responded to last month’s shooting at a high school in Florida.
  • The timeline is especially damning for the armed deputy assigned to the school, who never confronted the gunman during the shooting.
  • The deputy remained outside the building and even directed other officers to stay 500 feet away from the scene, the dispatches show.
  • The timeline also shows that 11 minutes passed between when the gunfire broke out and when officers from a neighbouring police department entered the school.

The armed school resource officer who failed to confront the gunman during the shooting at a Florida high school last month that left 17 people dead also warned other first responders to stay away from the scene as the massacre was unfolding, internal radio dispatches from the Broward County Sheriff’s Office show.

The deputy, Scot Peterson, resigned roughly a week after the shooting, after an investigation by the sheriff’s office found that he did “nothing” to stop the gunman and stayed outside the building for several minutes after the gunfire broke out.

Peterson’s attorney has told news outlets it’s “untrue” that Peterson failed to follow protocol, saying Peterson believed the gunfire was outdoors and responded accordingly.

But a timeline with radio dispatches and video-surveillance records made public by the sheriff’s office on Thursday indicate that Peterson knew the shots were coming from inside the building.

“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., roughly two minutes after the gunfire broke out, according to the records.

“Stay at least 500 feet away at this point,” Peterson radioed at 2:28 p.m., soon after the gunman stopped firing and ditched his weapon, the timeline shows.

“Stay away from 12 and 1300 building,” a dispatcher repeated in a warning to other officers.

Four officers from the Coral Springs Police Department and two Broward deputies entered the building 11 minutes after the shooting began, the timeline shows.

Here’s how the response unfolded, according to police records:

  • At 2:19 p.m., the suspect in the shooting, Nikolas Cruz, arrived at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School via an Uber.
  • The gunman entered Building 12 at 2:21 p.m. and opened fire within 15 seconds. At that point, Peterson was in a different building on the school’s campus.
  • The school’s fire alarm went off at 2:22 p.m., prompting students to begin evacuating. This is also when the first 911 call went out.
  • Peterson radioed at 2:23 p.m.: “Be advised we have possible – could be firecrackers. I think we have shots fired, possible shots fired, 1200 building.”
  • Peterson then arrived at the southeast corner of Building 12, where he remained “for the duration of the incident,” according to video-surveillance records cited in the timeline.
  • At 2:25 p.m., Peterson radioed, “Get the school locked down, gentlemen.” Seconds later, he gave another confirmation of the building, saying, “We also heard it’s by – inside the 1200.”
  • As students and others began flooding the 911 call centres and fleeing the campus, Peterson radioed to ensure “no one comes inside the school.”
  • The gunfire stopped at 2:27 p.m. The gunman ditched his weapon in the third-floor stairwell and left the building.
  • Five seconds later, Peterson radioed again to “stay at least 500 feet away at this point.” A dispatcher echoed the command.
  • At 2:28 p.m., Tim Burton, a Coral Springs police officer, arrived on campus and radioed a description of the shooter as a “white male with ROTC uniform, burgundy shirt.”
  • At 2:29 p.m., Burton met Peterson outside Building 12. Another deputy radioed, “We need to get units in here so we can start trying to find this guy.”
  • At 2:32 p.m., four Coral Springs officers and two Broward sheriff’s deputies entered the building for the first time.
  • An officer with the Coconut Creek Police Department arrested Cruz at 3:40 p.m. in a nearby neighbourhood.
Parkland police
Police escorting students out of the high school. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The radio dispatches support much of what the Broward County Sheriff’s Office has said about Peterson’s response during the shooting.

Sheriff Scott Israel told news outlets last month he was “devastated” and “sick to my stomach” over Peterson’s actions, adding that Peterson should have “went in” and “addressed the killer – killed the killer.”

The timeline “certainly backs up that he never went into the school,” Jeff Bell, the president of the police union representing Broward deputies, told the Miami Herald. “At one point he says to keep back 500 feet. Why would he say that?”

The sheriff’s office’s policy says deputies at the scene of an active shooting “may enter the area and/or structure to preserve life.”

In the US, police officers are generally directed to confront active shooters immediately rather than wait for SWAT teams to arrive – a practice adopted widely after the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado.

During that shooting, officers hung back and set up a perimeter around the school instead of entering and confronting the two shooters, who killed 13 people and injured 21 in under an hour before turning their guns on themselves. It took police more than three hours to find them.