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Florida shooting timeline: Deputy held officers back from classrooms where shots were heard

Broward County regional communications system recording during Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting. (Released on Thursday March 8, 2018)

A newly released timeline of law enforcement operations at the deadly Florida mass shooting last month indicates a school resource officer lingered outside the high school, failed to confront the shooter and ordered fellow officers to stay back from the building where the shots were heard.

The timeline indicates that the shooter had probably left the campus — blending in with crowds of panicked students — by the time officers finally entered the school.

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The release of the timeline comes days after Florida Gov. Rick Scott ordered an investigation into the shooting.

Broward County Sheriff’s Deputy Scot Peterson, 54, resigned after the Feb. 14 attack that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland rather than be suspended without pay pending an internal affairs investigation.

That investigation was still underway this week, a sheriff’s spokeswoman said.

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel has said Peterson should have entered the school and confronted the gunman.

An attorney for Peterson, a 33-year law enforcement veteran, has defended his client’s actions, saying he heard gunshots but thought they were coming from outside the building.

The timeline, though, indicates he suspected early on that the gunfire was coming from inside the school.

Former student Nikolas Cruz, 19, was indicted Wednesday on 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted murder.

On Friday, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office released updated statements following a timeline of the shooting they posted online based on video surveillance from the school and radio dispatches that appear to contradict the statement from Peterson’s attorney.

The Sheriff’s Office also released dispatch audio recordings, 911 calls, police reports and statements clarifying its position on the response. Media have sued for access to the school surveillance footage, which a judge was reviewing Friday before ruling on whether to release it.

“Surveillance video from outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High should be released publicly,” the Sheriff’s Office tweeted. “Legal exemptions block the release unless a judge approves. The judge took it under advisement and we hope for a ruling shortly.”

According to the sheriff’s timeline, an Uber driver dropped Cruz at the sprawling high school campus at 2:19 p.m. He entered Building 12 two minutes later and within seconds began shooting. At 2:22 p.m., the school’s fire alarm sounded and the first 911 call was received. Peterson was at a nearby administration building.

“We have possible, could be firecrackers. I think we have shots fired, possible shots fired —1200 building,” Peterson radioed at 2:23 p.m.

The gunman had arrived at Building 12, known to students as the freshmen building because so many had classes there, and appeared to remain for the duration of the shooting. Of the 14 students killed, nine were freshmen, seven of them just 14 years old.

“Get the school locked down, gentlemen!” Peterson can be heard shouting on the radio soon after. “We also heard it’s by, inside the 1200.”

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Other deputies arrived and said they heard shots by the football field — something Peterson mentioned in a statement released last month by his attorney, Joseph DiRuzzo, insisting he stayed outside because he thought shots were coming from outside the buildings.

The Sheriff’s Office “trains its officers that in the event of outdoor gunfire one is to seek cover and assess the situation in order to communicate what one observes with other law enforcement,” the statement said.

DiRuzzo did not return calls or email Friday.

The Sheriff’s Office released a statement this week noting that since 2014, personnel have attended new active-shooter training and received periodic refreshers.

At 2:27 p.m., six minutes after authorities said Cruz entered Building 12, the shooting stopped. Police said Cruz tossed aside his AR-15 rifle and fled. Seconds later, Peterson radioed for officers to “stay at least 500 feet away.”

A dispatcher repeated, “Stay away from 12 and 1300 building.”

Coral Springs Police Officer Tim Burton had just arrived at Douglas High and radioed the first, accurate description of Cruz: “White male with ROTC uniform burgundy shirt.”

At 2:29 p.m., Burton met Peterson outside Building 12. Another deputy called for a command post to be erected. Yet another radioed for added units, “so we can try to find this guy.”

“Do we have a perimeter set up right now and everyone cleared out of the school?” Sheriff’s Capt. Jan Jordan said.

“Negative,” a dispatcher replied.

It was 2:31 p.m., 10 minutes after the shooting had started.

A minute later, four officers entered the school for the first time to “extract a victim,” according to the timeline.

In a statement, the Sheriff’s Office noted: “By then, the suspect had been gone from building 1200 and his whereabouts were unknown. A perimeter is a secondary task that would be appropriate to apprehend the suspect, stop him from entering the neighboring middle school and prevent non-first responders (responding parents) from coming on the school property while it was on lockdown.”

But by then, Cruz was already blocks away at a Wal-Mart, where he bought a drink. At 3:40 p.m., he was spotted by a Coconut Creek police officer and arrested without incident.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the shooting response by all agencies, said spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger. She said investigators were assembling documents Friday, still preparing for interviews, and didn’t expect results for months.

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