Tuesday and Wednesday this week NBC’s Today show aired an interview with former Douglas High School Resource Officer Scot Peterson. He says he is haunted by the day’s events where 17 died and another 17 were wounded when a gunman attacked his school. I am sure he is. He said if he knew then what he knows now that he would have entered the school in a heartbeat. He also interviewed with the Washington Post.
He told The Post exactly what he did on that horrible day. From the Post’s story:
“…he remembered reacting in those first seconds by doing what he believed he had been trained to do: taking cover in a tactical position so he could clear the area. He leaned his back against the wall of an adjacent building. He took out his gun and scanned the surrounding palm trees, the courtyard, the windows, the parking lot and the roof. He waved at students who were walking through the courtyard and told them to clear the area. He reached for his school radio and gave a “Code Red” to lock down the school. He picked up his police radio for the first time just after 2:23 p.m.
‘Please advise, we have possible, uh, could be firecrackers. I think we got shots fired. Possible shots fired, 1200 building,’ he said, according to a recording of the radio traffic…”
The story details other actions that caused delay like the student 911 calls being relayed to the Coral Springs PD instead of the Broward Sheriff’s office. Other officers arriving and giving their perspectives would lead one to believe that the shooting was at the football field. The story closes with Peterson wondering why he didn’t know to go in.
The morning news story reporting the interviews said a parkland father who lost a daughter in the shooting was critical of Peterson and his comments. I hope he reads the Post story. It will give him a different perspective of Scot Peterson. It will give you one, too.
Scot Peterson is a lot like cops I knew, cops I know. He was a guy devoted to his job that had been through it all and handled it well. Did he make a mistake here? I honestly don’t think so. He was using every resource available to him to react to the situation he was given. The event was very close to being over by the time he arrived to the scene of what was initially reported as possible firecrackers. When he did arrive, he immediately reported what he was hearing and reacted appropriately as he assimilated the information. Sometimes the best you can do is just not enough.
From what I read Peterson punishes himself. He shouldn’t, but there will be no stopping that, not yet, anyway. He took his job seriously and did it well. His sheriff made him the scapegoat for a myriad of mistakes and poor communication that led to that fateful day. The public and the media have hounded and vilified him since the sheriff did that.
Based on what I read, I was right in my assessment of Peterson and his actions. I wish that helped him. It won’t. Sadly, it won’t stop those who want to blame him either. Facts don’t always persuade those who just must have something to blame for the horrible things that occur.
We like to think that there was a perfect solution available that day. There wasn’t. There isn’t now. While districts across the country struggle with how to handle school shootings, Scot Peterson struggles with handling the aftermath of Parkland. He was in a spot all cops imagine and the events just didn’t allow for his intervention as he would have hoped. I have no doubt he is the kind of man who would have gladly walked, no ran, into harm’s way for those kids in his charge.
And now he lives with it every single day.
I am glad I read The Post’s story. I am inclined to believe the best of Peterson in this situation. To those who aren’t, it won’t matter. They won’t read it; they will continue to ridicule him never allowing themselves to be in his position even by reading the related account. That’s too bad.
Scot Peterson is a victim here as well. His loss is as permanent as those of other survivors. I pray his guilt is not. Nobody deserves that, certainly not Scot Peterson.