Newly released police radio calls help paint a clearer picture of what happened when officers responded to the mass shooting inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which left 17 students and staff members dead.
The Broward County Sheriff's Office released a detailed timeline Thursday showing officers' communication and response at the time of the shooting, including those of embattled former School Resource Deputy Scot Peterson, who resigned after BSO Sheriff Scott Israel said he broke protocol in not entering the school.
The first warning that suspected gunman Nikolas Cruz was firing shots inside the high school came from a 911 call to Coral Springs Communications Center about 2:22 p.m., roughly a minute after the shooting started; Coral Springs Fire officials were dispatched.
Another minute went by before Peterson made a call on his radio.
"Be advised we have possible, could be firecrackers, I think we have shots fired, possible shots fired by the 1200 building," Peterson said.
At the time of Peterson's first radio call, the shooting had been going on for about two minutes. The school fire alarm was also going off, apparently activated by smoke or dust from the shooting itself, officials noted.
Records provided by the Broward Sheriff’s Office show Peterson stood 40 yards away from the 1200 building, where Cruz was allegedly opening fire. While Peterson was taking cover, he was radioing for BSO to lock down the surrounding area — and later, after seeming to identify that gunfire was coming from inside the school, even ordering his colleagues not to approach the buildings at all.
"I need to shut down Stoneman Douglas, the intersection,” Peterson said about 2:24 p.m. “I’m over on the south side by the 700 building.
Recorded BSO communication doesn’t show that Peterson indicated he would enter the building. Peterson’s instructs two BSO deputies to block roads and they respond.
Colonel Jack Dale, who heads criminal investigations and internal affairs for the agency, said that's not how BSO deputies are trained to react when there is an active shooter inside a building.
“First, interrupt the shooter, and that is the primary mission of an active shooter response,” said Col. Dale regarding the newly released radio traffic, timeline and training of the agency’s deputies. Col. Dale said setting a perimeter is secondary.
“When an active shooter ceases, then those secondary responses become appropriate,” he said.
Four minutes into the roughly six-minute shooting, Peterson again calls for the area to be shut down.
"Get the school locked down, gentlemen,” he is heard saying on his radio.
Though Dale says Peterson's actions were contrary to the training of BSO deputies, Peterson's attorney said the resource officer wasn't aware the shots were coming from inside the school. Joseph A. DiRuzzo said Peterson thought the shots were being fired outside, in which case an officer is "to seek cover and assess the situation in order to communicate what one observes to other law enforcement."
"Mr. Peterson is confident that his actions on that day were appropriate under the circumstances and that the video (together with the eye-witness testimony of those on the scene) will exonerate him of any sub-par performance," DiRuzzo said in a statement.
But nearly 20 seconds after calling for a school lockdown, Peterson identifies that he heard shots "by, inside the 1200 building" — before telling fellow officers "do not approach" the buildings.
BSO says the investigation into the incident is "active and continuing.”
Communication shows that just after Peterson identifies the 1200 building, about 2:26 p.m., students are seen running from the school and 911 lines are "blowing up."
The shooter then moves to the teachers' lounge on the 1200 building’s third floor, where BSO says he fired shots through the glass window.
"I hear shots fired. Shots fired!” Peterson says.
Seconds later, the shooting stops. No other BSO deputies or Coral Springs officers report they are at the school’s 1200 building.
BSO says video inside the school stairwell shows Cruz dropped his weapon at 2:27 p.m. and exited the building with terrified, fleeing students.
At almost the exact moment that Cruz is exiting, Peterson is back on his police radio telling his colleagues to stay away.
"Broward, do not approach the 12 or 13-hundred building,” he said at 2:28 p.m. “Stay at least 500 feet away at this point. Stay away from the 12 and 13-hundred building.”
The BSO records and radio calls show it was not Captain Jan Jordan who told officers to stay away from the school’s building, as initially reported. It was now-former Deputy Peterson, and by the time he advised officers to stay away, Cruz was already outside the school.
Captain Jordan, who took criticism for initial reports that she told responding deputies to set a perimeter, is the commander of BSO’s Parkland District. She does not appear on the radio until about 10 minutes after the shooting began.
It wasn't until 2:29 p.m. that the first law enforcement officers, two deputies from BSO, try to enter the school. They attempt to go into the nearby 1300 building, but were unable to get in.
It was 11 minutes after the shooting began when the first team of officers from Coral Springs and deputies from BSO entered the 1200 building. At that point, Cruz had gotten a five-minute head start to get away.
“I don’t know that any chaotic scene like this ever goes perfectly," Col. Dale said in defense of the officers' responses, adding that Peterson's constant communication with fellow officers is expected in this type of situation.
"For the initial stages of the event, Peterson is the eyes on the ground so it’s appropriate for him to relay that information and direct responding personnel," Dale said.
One issue that made the response more chaotic, BSO said, is that BSO and Coral Springs operate on different radio channels.
“Anything that occurred on the Coral Springs channel would not be able to heardby the (BSO) deputies on the scene, and vice versa,” said Dale. “They would not have the information that was broadcast on the BSO channel.”
Broward County says its current radio system is "nearing its end of life," and it is scheduled to be replaced in 2019.
BSO says some of its radio communications were affected, known as "throttling," because of how many people were using the radios. It led to some people not being able to transmit or receive messages on the radio.
In addition, BSO reports that Peterson and school security employees were communicating on a separate radio from the police. The school radio traffic was not recorded.
All cell phone calls from the school were routed to the Coral Springs 911 dispatchers. Coral Springs then sends those police-related calls to BSO.
BSO says its regional communications center received 71 calls between 2:22 pm and 3:35 pm. Only one of those calls came from inside the school. Coral Springs received 86 calls during the same time. BSO says they received information on three of those calls.