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Armed deputy who failed to confront gunman at Florida school resigns

By Bernie Woodall
A woman mourns in front of the fence of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

By Bernie Woodall

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (Reuters) - The armed sheriff's deputy assigned to the Florida high school where 17 people were shot dead has resigned rather than face suspension after an internal investigation showed he failed to enter the school to confront the gunman during the attack, the county sheriff said on Thursday.

Deputy Scot Peterson, who was on duty and in uniform as the resource officer posted at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, was the only law enforcement officer present on Feb. 14 when the rampage started, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said.

Peterson's actions were caught on video during the massacre, which ranks as the second-deadliest shooting ever at a U.S. public school, carried out by a lone gunman wielding a semiautomatic AR-15-style assault rifle.

“What I saw was a deputy arrive at the west side of Building 12, take up a position and he never went in,” Israel said, referring to the building on campus, popularly known as the "freshman building," where authorities said the bulk of the shooting occurred.

Israel told reporters the shooting in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Parkland lasted six minutes, and that Peterson arrived at the freshman building about 90 seconds after the first shots were fired, then lingered outside for at least four minutes.

Asked what the deputy should have done, Israel replied, "Went in. Addressed the killer. Killed the killer."

Peterson has not given a reason for why he did not enter the building, Israel said.

Neither the deputy nor any representatives could immediately be reached for comment.

Israel said he would not release the video at this time and may never do so, “depending on the prosecution and criminal case” against Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old former student who is charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder in the assault.

Authorities have said that Cruz, who was expelled from Stoneman Douglas High last year for unspecified disciplinary problems, made his getaway moments after the shooting by blending in with students fleeing the school for safety.

Police officers arriving on the scene from the adjacent city of Coral Springs thought the gunman was still inside as they searched the building, based on a security camera video feed that they mistakenly believed was showing them real-time images but was actually footage from 20 minutes earlier.

Coral Springs Police Chief Tony Pustizzi told reporters on Thursday that the confusion stemmed from human error and a "communication failure," not malfunctioning equipment. He insisted that the mishap did not put any lives in danger.

The Broward sheriff has said Cruz, after slipping away from the school, casually spent more than an hour drifting through a Walmart store and visiting two fast-food outlets before he was spotted and arrested.

Israel said Thursday he had decided on the basis of his findings to suspend Peterson, but the deputy resigned first. Israel said two other deputies were placed on restrictive administrative assignment, stemming from their response to numerous calls for service and reports received by the sheriff's department pertaining to Cruz during the past 10 years.

The shooting renewed a national debate between proponents of gun rights, as enshrined in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and advocates for tougher restrictions on firearms.

High school students from Stoneman Douglas and elsewhere around the country have launched a protest and lobbying campaign demanding new curbs on assault weapons. U.S. President Donald Trump has suggested school gun violence could be abated by arming teachers.

On Thursday, the head of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, lashed out at gun control advocates, accusing liberal elites of politicizing the Florida mass shooting to try to attack "our firearms freedoms so they can eradicate all individual freedoms."

The carnage also raised questions about whether law enforcement agencies did all they could to detect and follow up on possible warning signs of last week's gun violence in advance.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation prompted widespread outrage last Friday when it said it had failed to act on a tip warning that a man, since identified as Cruz, had possessed a gun, the desire to kill and the potential to commit a school shooting.

The revelation prompted Governor Rick Scott, a Republican, to call for the resignation of FBI Director Christopher Wray.


(Reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Tom Brown and Lisa Shumaker)