PARKLAND, Florida – Scot Peterson, the school resource officer who has been publicly crucified for his inaction during the Parkland, Florida, school shooting, knows he could have done more that day and struggles with a torrent of what-ifs.
After almost four months of silence and dodging reporters — even those who camped out in the cul-de-sac of his retirement community after the shooting — Peterson is doing the media rounds. A Monday feature in The Washington Post, the product of a reporter spending a considerable amount of time with the former Broward County deputy, will be followed by a nationally televised Tuesday interview on NBC’s “Today.
“I’m human,” Peterson said in a promotional snippet released by the morning show. “In a perfect world, oh yeah, I know there was a shooter. Let’s go to the third floor, find this person. … Knowing that I know today, I would have been in that building in a heartbeat. It was my kids. It’s just, I don’t know. I mean, I rack my brain. I go, ‘Why?'”
Criticized as a coward for not confronting the gunman during a rampage that left 17 people dead, Peterson still has a sheet draped over his front door to fend of the prying eyes of reporters outside his home, the Post reported. His girlfriend, Lydia Rodriguez, plays Christian music and posts affirmations — such as “Rule your mind, or it will rule you” and “Cherish Yourself!” — around the home to help Peterson get out of his own head.
Neighbors and friends bring over cookies and meet him for lunch in an effort to lift his spirits after he was pilloried by his former boss, the parents of slain children and President Donald Trump.
“It’s haunting,” Peterson told a neighbor, identified by the Post only as Jim. “I’ve cut that day up a thousand ways with a million different what-if scenarios, but the bottom line is I was there to protect, and I lost 17.”
“Come on, now,” Jim replied. “It’s not all on you.”
“But that’s the perception,” Peterson said, according to the paper. “You’re a hero or a coward, and that’s it.”
‘The evidence is sitting right there’
At his duplex in Boynton Beach, Peterson studies documents and surveillance footage from the shooting and walks through his own actions, pondering what he could have done differently. He vacillates between disgust at those who said he let kids die and anguish over knowing that as the only armed law enforcement officer on campus, he was best positioned to take down the shooter.
Surveillance video showing Peterson with his back against a wall outside, never entering the building, is fodder for those who accuse him of doing nothing. But he told The Post he was in reality calling in the shooting on the radio, locking down the school and clearing kids out of the courtyard.
“How can they keep saying I did nothing?” he asked Rodriguez, according to the newspaper. “I’m getting on the radio to call in the shooting. I’m locking down the school. I’m clearing kids out of the courtyard. They have the video and the call logs. The evidence is sitting right there.”
Added Rodriguez, “It’s easy to second-guess when you’re in some conference room, spending months thinking about what you would have done.”
Peterson loved the children of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and it pains him to think they would view him so dimly after all the years he spent protecting the campus, the Post reported.
There was no time to think, he told the paper. He was in his office, a few hundred yards away from the 1200 Building where the massacre unfolded, when he got the call on Valentine’s Day. At first he believed someone had ignited firecrackers on campus. Soon, it became clear the pops were gunshots, but their origin remained uncertain. One call suggested they might be coming from the football field.
‘Stop torturing yourself’
Peterson had attended conferences and training sessions for active shooter incidents. He had envisioned his response: finding, engaging and killing the shooter.
But when the shots rang out, he found himself outside frantically trying to determine where the shooter might be. According to the paper, he stayed outside because he didn’t want to expose himself when he wasn’t sure where the gunman was. His first instinct when he got home that day was that he messed up — and that was long before he was dubbed the “coward of Broward.”
“I couldn’t get him,” he remembered telling Rodriguez after the incident. “It was my job, and I didn’t find him.”
He’s seen a psychologist and psychiatrist. Prescription medication helps him sleep. Professionals say he’s suffering from a variety of symptoms, including confusion, anxiety, guilt, grief, agitation and obsession.
The obsession was evident as he watched a 3-D re-creation of the shooting, much to Rodriguez’s chagrin. In it, he retraced the steps of the shooter, represented by a black rifle, in an effort to reconcile them with his own.
“I was trying to figure it out,” Peterson said, according to the Post. “I was scanning for the shooter, looking over the windows, the sidewalk, the rooftop. I thought maybe it was a sniper like in Las Vegas. I just didn’t know.”
Later, he traced his finger over the stairs, saying, “I could have come in over here. … I could have got him while he was reloading. If I’d just heard more shots, maybe I would have known where they were coming from.”
Rodriguez, worried that reliving the incident is unhealthy for her beau, told him, “Stop torturing yourself.”
As described by the Post, Peterson didn’t stop. He watched until the black rifle left the school.
“It’s brutal,” he said.