By Brendan Farrington, Gary Fineout and Terry Spencer Associated Press
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The armed officer on duty at the Florida school where a shooter killed 17 people never went inside to engage the gunman and has been placed under investigation, police announced Thursday.
The Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School by a gunman armed with an AR-15 style assault rifle has reignited national debate over gun laws and school safety, including proposals by President Donald Trump and others to designate more people — including trained teachers — to carry arms on school grounds. Gun-control advocates, meanwhile, have redoubled their push to ban assault rifles.
The school resource officer at the high school took up a position viewing the western entrance of the building that was under attack for more than four minutes, but “he never went in,” Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said at a Thursday news conference. The shooting lasted about six minutes.
The officer, Scot Peterson, was suspended without pay and placed under investigation, then chose to resign, Israel said. When asked what Peterson should have done, Israel said the deputy should have “went in, addressed the killer, killed the killer.”
The sheriff said he was “devastated, sick to my stomach. There are no words. I mean these families lost their children. I’ve been to the funerals. I’ve been to the vigils. There are no words.”
The suspect, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, has been jailed on 17 counts of murder and has admitted the attack. Defense attorneys, state records and people who knew him indicate that he displayed behavioral troubles for years. He owned a collection of weapons.
Politicians under pressure to tighten gun laws in response to the mass shooting floated various plans Thursday.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said a visit to Stoneman Douglas prompted him to change his stance on large capacity magazines. The Republican insisted he is willing to rethink his past opposition on gun proposals if there is information the policies would prevent mass shootings.
“If we are going to infringe on the Second Amendment, it has to be a policy that will work,” Rubio said in an interview Thursday with The Associated Press.
State Sen. Bill Galvano, who is helping craft a bill in response to the shooting deaths, said an idea gaining traction is a program that would allow local sheriffs to deputize someone at a school to carry a gun on campus.
Galvano insisted the idea is not the same as arming teachers. He said the program would be optional and the deputized person would have to be trained by local law-enforcement agencies.
Florida Senate President Joe Negron said both chambers are working on the legislation in response to the Parkland shootings. He said a final draft should be available “early next week at the latest.”
What won’t be considered is a ban on assault-style rifles.
That falls short of reform demanded by students who converged on Florida’s Capitol to take their concerns to state lawmakers Wednesday. Outside the building, many protesters complained that lawmakers were not serious about gun control and said that in future elections they would oppose any legislator who accepts campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association.
A day after an emotional meeting with survivors and their families, Trump tweeted his strongest stance yet on gun control. He said he would endorse strengthening background checks, banning “bump stock” style devices and raising the minimum age to 21 for buying certain rifles.
At a conference of conservative activists Thursday near Washington, Vice President Mike Pence said the administration would make school safety “our top national priority” after the shooting at the school in Parkland, Florida.
Calling school shootings “evil in our time,” Pence exhorted those in positions of authority “to find a way to come together with American solutions.”
It was a markedly different tone than that deployed on stage minutes earlier by NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre, who delivered an unbowed defense of gun ownership and lashed out at Democrats — saying they are using the tragedy for “political gain.”
“They hate the NRA. They hate the Second Amendment. They hate individual freedom,” LaPierre said.
As the 50th anniversary of her father’s assassination approaches, the daughter of civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said limiting gun access is long overdue. Speaking at The King Center in Atlanta, the Rev. Bernice King said tragedy “gives us an opportunity to lay aside for a moment our differences and really look at how we can come together as humanity and move forward with these injustices and these evils that continue to beset us.”
The survivors of the shooting have vowed to continue their activism, including a “March for Our Lives” in Washington next month, which King says she’ll attend.
At a funeral for slain football coach Aaron Feis, retired school groundskeeper Dave Tagliavia said he thinks the students mean what they say and won’t back down.
“I think if changes are going to be made, these kids are going to do it. They’ve got fire in their eyes,” he said.
Hundreds gathered in Parkland to remember Feis, 37, an assistant football coach and security guard gunned down while helping students to safety during the mass shooting
Joe LaGuardia, who attended high school with Feis at Stoneman Douglas, described him as “one of the greatest people I have ever known.”
On Thursday, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson gave Rubio credit for being the only Republican to attend a televised town hall Wednesday night held in the aftermath of the school shooting and criticized Republican Gov. Rick Scott for not showing up.
“I commended (Rubio) for being there. He had the guts to be there when Governor Scott did not,” Nelson told a group of Democratic state senators.
Scott is likely to challenge Nelson as he seeks a fourth term in the Senate this November. Nelson questioned Scott’s commitment to make meaningful change after the shooting.
Republican legislative leaders in Florida say they will consider legislation that will likely call for raising the age limit to purchase a rifle from 18 to 21 and increasing funding for mental health programs and school resource officers, the police assigned to specific schools. Legislators may also enact a waiting period for rifle purchases.