Broward County

‘Why didn’t they move toward the building?’ Questions asked of BSO’s Parkland response

Animation breaks down cops’ response to Parkland massacre

Animation produced by state investigators shows how Broward Sheriff's Office deputies waited on the edge of campus after Nikolas Cruz shot and killed 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Coral Springs Police Department officers rushed in.
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Animation produced by state investigators shows how Broward Sheriff's Office deputies waited on the edge of campus after Nikolas Cruz shot and killed 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Coral Springs Police Department officers rushed in.

A new animation shows exactly how law enforcement officers and school staff responded to February’s deadly shooting at a Parkland high school.

In second-by-second detail, the animation shows how security monitors allowed Nikolas Cruz to enter Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s campus and then go into the freshman building, where he opened fire. School resource officer and Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputy Scot Peterson can be seen approaching the building’s door, then appearing to retreat on hearing gunfire and taking cover.

As the minutes tick by — and 17 lives are lost inside — more BSO deputies arrive on the 40-plus acre campus. Rather than heading to the building, those deputies stay on the edge of campus during the six-minute shooting. A total of seven veteran BSO deputies arrived on or near campus in time to hear gunfire, not including Peterson.

It is only when Coral Springs Police Department officers show up that law enforcement begins streaming toward the building, making entry 11 minutes after Cruz opened fire. By then, it was too late. Cruz had fled and 17 people were already dead or dying. Another 17 people were wounded and survived.

The actions of Coral Springs officers, BSO deputies and school staff were dissected in exacting detail Wednesday during a meeting of the state’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission at the BB&T Center in Sunrise.

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Nikolas Cruz is shown on surveillance video during the Parkland school massacre. Seventeen people died. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission Courtesy

The commission is tasked with investigating whether the Feb. 14 shooting could have been stopped, how law enforcement responded once it started and if similar attacks can be prevented in the future. (The Herald has requested a copy of the animation, which was played for commission members on a projector.)

“You got seven deputies [at the school],” said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, the commission’s chairman. “Why didn’t they move toward the building? Those are questions that need to be addressed.”

And they will be: Broward Sheriff Scott Israel is expected to testify before the commission Thursday afternoon. So is Peterson, as well as Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie.

On Wednesday, Peterson, who later resigned, came in for the largest share of blame. He could have entered the building before Cruz made it to the third floor and killed six students, the animation shows. Cruz shot 34 people in just three minutes and 30 seconds, highlighting the compressed and chaotic nature of the shooting, as well as the lethal accuracy of his Smith & Wesson semiautomatic rifle. (For much of the rest of the six-minute shooting, Cruz tried and failed to shoot out the hurricane windows in the third-floor teacher’s lounge. Had he succeeded, he could have rained bullets down upon fleeing students and staff, as well as approaching law enforcement officers.)

“[Peterson] was a cop in name only. He wasn’t willing to take the fight to the guy,” said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, a commission member. “He did not have the intestinal fortitude.”

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Police officers ride in the back of a pickup truck with a victim outside of Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland after reports of an active shooter Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. John McCall Sun Sentinel

But there were other missteps by law enforcement, too.

An additional seven BSO deputies — Detective Brian Goolsby, Sgt. Brian Miller and deputies Michael Kratz, Art Perry, Edward Eason, Josh Stambaugh and Richard Seward — arrived on campus while Cruz was still firing and victims were bleeding to death. None of them went for the freshman building, even though Peterson was saying over the radio he heard shots fired at the building. All had at least 15 years experience in law enforcement.

Several Coral Springs police officers who arrived minutes later said in official reports that they saw BSO deputies taking cover behind their cars. One Coral Springs officer told commission investigators that he saw Perry taking cover behind a tree. “We all can’t stand behind this tree, we’re gonna get shot,” Perry said, according to the officer.

The BSO deputies had not received active shooter training since 2016. Some hadn’t been trained since 2015.

They gave investigators varying explanations for their actions during the shooting. Several said that they did not know where the gunshots were coming from and that their radios weren’t working properly. Others spoke of the need to stop traffic from entering the school. One said he was confused about where the freshman building was. A few said they thought the shooter was outside somewhere on campus.

“Clearly the response by some was inadequate,” said commission member Mike Carroll, a former secretary of the Florida Department of Children & Families “What disappoints me more is that some of the answers are not credible.”

In contrast to BSO training policies, Coral Springs offers active shooter training every year.

Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was killed in the shooting, said he was sickened by how BSO deputies had behaved.

“Coral Springs did the job that I wish Broward had done,” said Guttenberg, who watched the meeting from the audience. “By the time they went in, it was already too late.”

This story has been updated to include a video of the animation.

Nicholas Nehamas: 305-376-3745, @NickNehamas
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