On one hand, Scot Peterson has been branded a coward by President Trump, and leading Florida officials and even his own former boss say they are disgusted by his inaction.
On the other, some students in Parkland, Florida, say the former Broward County sheriff’s deputy would have faced almost certain death if he charged into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14 and tried to single-handedly confront a gunman wielding an AR-15. One federal lawmaker said Sunday that a single armed law enforcement officer may be of little help in a situation where a shooter is heavily armed with semi-automatic weapons.
Mr. Peterson’s decision to wait outside the high school while the gunman carried out a massacre has become a white-hot debate in its own right, even as a much-broader fight over gun control and school safety plays out in Washington and across the country.
Those most affected by the nation’s most recent school shooting have strong opinions about Mr. Peterson, who resigned last week amid growing outrage.
“Peterson — he’s a coward. He stood by the door,” said Andrew Pollack, whose daughter, Meadow, was among the 17 people killed. “He could have saved [some of the] victims if he wasn’t some little — words can’t even describe the way I feel about him.”
Mr. Pollack made the comments during an interview on “Fox News Sunday.”
There were news reports that three other deputies from the Broward County Sheriff’s Office waited behind cars outside during the shooting spree.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, called for a full investigation, which state officials said later Sunday was underway.
“The local sheriff’s department — they’ve got to be completely transparent. Whoever didn’t do their job has to be held accountable,” Mr. Scott said on “Fox News Sunday.” “There’s no one I talked to who isn’t disgusted that the local sheriff’s deputy who was there didn’t go in and kill that individual.”
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said he welcomed the investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
“BSO will cooperate fully with FDLE, as we believe in full transparency and accountability. This independent, outside review will ensure public confidence in the findings,” he said.
David Hogg, a senior at the school, has a different take. He told MSNBC on Saturday that Mr. Peterson “at heart is a good person,” and he warned against assuming that most people would have thrown caution to the wind and gone charging into the school.
“Who wants to go down the barrel of an AR-15, even with a Glock [semi-automatic pistol]?” he said.
David elaborated on that point Sunday, addressing failures by the Broward County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI to fully investigate warnings that Nikolas Cruz, who is accused in the attack, was on the verge of committing an act of mass violence.
“Were there mistakes made? Absolutely. Is anything going to change? I certainly hope so. But this is something that we can’t go back and change now. We just have to look to the future and fix it,” he told ABC’s “This Week” program.
While Mr. Trump and others discuss proposed solutions, such as arming some teachers or installing more armed guards at schools, some lawmakers say one guard — Mr. Peterson, in this case — may not make much of a difference.
“You’re just endangering that guard, unless you have two guards,” Rep. Thomas Massie, Kentucky Republican, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday.
Mr. Massie supports the idea of arming some teachers, a move that Mr. Scott and many others oppose.
Sheriff Israel is facing calls to resign over his department’s handling of the shooting and investigations into Mr. Cruz leading up to the tragic events.
Sheriff Israel told CNN’s “State of the Union” program on Sunday that he does not plan to resign, though he said Mr. Peterson made a grave error — one that he says made him “sick to my stomach.”
“One deputy was remiss, dereliction of duty, and he’s now no longer with this agency. And that’s Peterson,” Sheriff Israel said.
He added that his department is conducting a full investigation into its overall response amid reports that other deputies arrived at the scene and failed to immediately enter the building.
“All I can tell you is, we will investigate every action of our deputies, of their supervisors. And if they did things right, we will move forward. And if they did things wrong, I will take care of business in a disciplinary matter, like I did with Peterson,” he said.
As the FBI grapples with the fact that it failed to follow up on tips and warnings about Mr. Cruz’s behavior, Sheriff Israel said he supports giving law enforcement more tools to address potential shooters beforehand.
“We’re trying to change the law, so we can either arrest that person or, more importantly, get that person to a medical facility, because if you arrest the person, there’s going to be a time where they get out of jail anyway,” he said. “We want to be able to take their guns away from them for a long, long period of time.”