Nearly four months after 17 people lost their lives in one of the deadliest school shootings in American history, the school resource officer tasked with protecting students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is speaking out for the first time.
Scot Peterson, who spent over three decades with the Broward Sheriff’s Office and nearly the last decade as the man patrolling the Parkland, Florida, school where Nikolas Cruz opened fire on Feb. 14, spoke with The Washington Post and NBC's Savannah Guthrie about that day and the ensuing criticism he has received from those who feel he didn’t do enough to protect the school.
Peterson told Guthrie in an interview that will air Tuesday and Wednesday on the "Today" show that he should have done more after hearing shots fired inside the school's 1200 building shortly after 2 p.m.
Peterson told Guthrie that he "didn't get it right" but not because he didn't want to "face somebody in there."
"It wasn't like that at all," Peterson said, adding that there was no time for fear.
“I live with that, how could I not?” Peterson said. “I’m human. In the perfect world, I would have said, ‘Oh yeah, I know there is a shooter in there. Let me go to the third floor, find this person.’ Knowing what I know today, I would have been in that building in a heartbeat. It was my kids.”
Peterson, who retired from the department shortly after the shooting, has been the subject of condemnation, being called everything from a “disgrace” by Sheriff Scott Israel to a “coward” by President Donald Trump.
"Were you a coward?" Guthrie asked.
"Never," Peterson replied.
“That’s what they called you; 'the coward of Broward County,'" Guthrie added.
“I know. Never. I never had a chance. I never thought even for a moment of being scared or a coward because I was just doing things the whole time. It just never – it didn't even – it never entered my mind," Peterson said.
Surveillance video showed Peterson standing outside one of the school’s buildings during the shooting, radioing in for additional deputies and officers from other agencies to respond to the school.
“It’s haunting,” Peterson told the Post from his Boynton Beach home. “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 seventeen.”
Still, Peterson told the Post that he hadn't known whether the gunshots he heard had come from outside or inside the 1200 building. Even though he later read that the gunman had fired more than 150 rounds, he said he only heard two or three shots. He would have known where to find the gunman if he heard more shots, he told the newspaper, which reported Peterson often returns to the issue while trying to make sense of his response to the shooting.
“I just didn’t know,” he said. “Why didn’t I know to go in?”
Peterson's recent interviews have drawn backlash from those who lost loved ones in the shooting - including Fred Guttenberg, the father of 14-year-old victim Jamie.
"Scot Peterson, you were not a victim and so stop with this crap. You created victims. My daughter was one of them. She was on the 3rd floor and you could have saved her life," Guttenberg posted on Facebook. "You are not making things better with your interviews. They are not "your kids" as you say. They were our kids and now they are dead because of your failure and incompetence."
Peterson is the subject of a wrongful death lawsuit from the family of Meadow Pollack, one of the four seniors who were honored Sunday at the school’s graduation ceremony.
The lawsuit claims a "pusillanimous" Peterson "cowered in a safe location between two concrete walls" as the gunman "rained bullets upon the teachers and students."
"Peterson is my main target," Pollack’s father, Andrew, told The Associated Press. "He could have stopped it. Could have saved my kid. Nobody should be able to not do their job, receive a pension and ride off into the sunset."
Peterson has been receiving over $8,700 a month in pension from the state following his retirement.
Florida Department of Management Services said in an emailed statement to NBC Miami that because there were no charges filed against the 55-year-old Peterson, there was no reason to deny him his benefits per Florida law.