‘Heartbreaking,’ ‘infuriating’: Military veterans weigh in on the deputy who resigned over his actions in the Parkland school shooting

People embrace as they attend a candlelight memorial service for the victims of the Parkland shooting, February 15, 2018 in Parkland, Florida.

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People embrace as they attend a candlelight memorial service for the victims of the Parkland shooting, February 15, 2018 in Parkland, Florida.
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Joe Raedle/Getty Images

  • An internal review by a local sheriff’s office indicated that Scot Peterson, the resource officer on duty during the Parkland shooting, failed to confront the gunman.
  • Peterson is believed to have remained outside of the building while the shooting unfolded on February 14.
  • Some people have criticized Peterson’s conduct.
  • Veterans with combat experience urged caution about lambasting Peterson, whose resignation was announced on Thursday.

After an internal review by the Broward County Sheriff’s office indicated that the student resource officer on duty during the Parkland, Florida, shooting failed to confront the gunman, critics on social media were quick to direct their anger toward the officer on Thursday.

Scot Peterson was armed and in uniform at the time, and reportedly did “nothing” as the shooting unfolded at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He remained outside of the building for at least four minutes during the incident, according to Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel. Peterson’s resignation was announced on Thursday.

“I am devastated,” Israel said at a news conference. “Sick to my stomach. He never went in.”

Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old suspect, was armed with an AR-15 assault-style rifle during the shooting, in which 17 people were killed.

David French, a senior writer at the National Review and a former US Army officer in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG), called Peterson’s inaction “heartbreaking” and “infuriating.”

“I’m amazed at the number of people who are excusing the apparent failure of the SRO to engage the shooter because the shooter was armed with the allegedly almighty AR-15,” French said on Twitter. “That SRO’s job is to fight and — if necessary — die for those kids.”

“When a person puts on the uniform, they are declaring that they are willing to die (not wanting, willing) to protect their community,” French said in another tweet. “That is a hard, terrifying thing, but enforcing that discipline is vital.”

Others believed Peterson should be criminally charged for his inaction.

“Deputy Scott Peterson, whose cowardice led to the murder of many school students, needs to face criminal charges,” Ryan Saavedra, a writer at the conservative blog site Daily Wire, said in a tweet.

“Deputy Scot Peterson is going off to ‘retire’ while a community is ripped apart and 17 families are destroyed. Enjoy your retirement, coward,” Fox 10 anchor Kari Lake said in a reply to Saavedra.

But veterans, many of whom have combat experience, shed light on the difficulty of performing their duties under extreme duress, as one may experience in a combat situation.

“Those who study the effect of fear in combat, this isn’t that unusual,” said Mark Hertling, a CNN contributor and former Lt. Gen. in the US Army. “While soldiers/security are trained to run to the sound of the guns…not all do for a variety of psychological reasons.”

“It happens more often than most would think, and it’s part of human nature.” Hertling said.

swat team police 6

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jasoneppink/Creative Commons

Paul Szoldra, editor-in-chief of Code Red News and a former infantryman in the Marine Corps, noted that even service members acted differently in combat scenarios.

“I know people are dumping on the school resource officer who didn’t go into the school, but the sad fact is some people freeze in combat situations,” Szoldra said. “It happens with cops and soldiers, training be damned, especially if it’s their first time under fire.”

“As much as we’d like a convenient foil to blame, and this cop certainly provides that, I would imagine he’s going to carry the guilt of his choice to not go in for the rest of his life,” Szoldra continued. “Ultimately, the blame for this rests on the shooter alone.”

Nate Bethea, a writer on veterans-related issues and a former US Army infantry officer, criticized those who had no combat experience and were quick to condemn Peterson.

“When I was in Afghanistan we had a platoon in my battalion lose a guy during a shootout, and the whole team froze,” Bethea said. “These were trained airborne infantrymen whose fellow soldier’s life was in danger. They eventually got back in the fight, but yeah.”

A US Marine communicates with his platoon while taking simulated fire, August 11, 2017.

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A US Marine communicates with his platoon while taking simulated fire, August 11, 2017.
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U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Cpl. Aaron S. Patterson

Kevin Quinn, the former president of the National Association of School Resource Officers and a former law-enforcement officer, said he was “sick” after hearing the sheriff’s office’s statements on Peterson.

“I am sick to my stomach, listening to the @browardsheriff tell how the SRO at #Parkland HS in FL didn’t enter the school and respond properly during the shooting last week,” Quinn said. “That is NOT how the SRO’s that I work with would act. I would lay down my life for my students!!”

Peterson had worked at the high school since 2009 and was nominated for Deputy of the Year in 2017. His nomination letter lauded him for his decades of service in law-enforcement.

“Peterson is a dedicated SRO who values his position and takes pride in protecting the students, faculty and staff at his school,” the internal letter read. It continued: “Deputy Peterson is dependable and reliable and handles issues that arise with tact and solid judgment.”

The various roles a Student Resource Officers may take on.

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The various roles a Student Resource Officers may take on.
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Community Oriented Policing Services

The Parkland shooting highlights steps Peterson should have taken during the incident. SROs are sworn law enforcement officers and are defined by the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) – an agency under the US Justice Department – as those who are “responsible for safety and crime prevention in schools.”

Student resource officers also play multiple roles by bridging the gap between enforcing the law and other education: “Beyond law enforcement, SROs also serve as educators, emergency managers, and informal counselors,” the COPS’s website reads.

The controversy surrounding Peterson’s conduct may linger, as the Broward County sheriff declined to offer some key details about the investigation.

Israel said surveillance footage of Peterson captured during the massacre may never be released.

Meanwhile, Peterson now appears to have concerns about his own safety. Multiple reports emerged on Thursday that deputies from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s office in Florida were guarding his home after his family requested protection.