The mother’s voice was increasingly panicked. Her daughter was trapped inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School while a former student stalked the halls with a rifle and fired bullet after bullet. Even from afar, she tried to comfort and protect her daughter.
“I love you. I love you. It’s going to be fine,” the mother said. “Can you hide somewhere? Can you play dead?”
Her terrified conversation was included among a collection of 911 calls released by the Broward County Sheriff’s Office this week, along with police dispatch recordings, other records and a timeline documenting the law enforcement response to the Feb. 14 massacre in Parkland, Fla.
A review of the records, police documents and other accounts provides the most comprehensive picture yet of how officials responded during and after the shooting rampage that killed 17 students and faculty. What they reveal is that while terror was spreading through the community, the initial police response seemed chaotic and potentially hampered by technological failures.
The records also shed new light on the actions of Scot Peterson, the highly criticized former Broward County sheriff’s deputy who was the school resource officer at Douglas. Sheriff Scott Israel, who has himself been the target of public criticism for his department’s handling of warning signs preceding the shooting, publicly castigated Peterson for waiting outside during the massacre rather than rushing in. Peterson, who retired the day he was suspended, pushed back at Israel’s comments, saying he thought the gunfire was coming from outside.
Yet the dispatch recordings show that Peterson — who was elsewhere on the school’s 45-acre campus when the shooting began — quickly zeroed in on the building where the massacre occurred, reporting just two minutes after the first shots that there was possible gunfire there. He also ordered other officers to remain “at least 500 feet away” after the shooting had ended.
“We’re talking about the 1200 building,” Peterson said at one point, according to the audio recordings and written timeline released by the sheriff’s office. When another officer later said some students reported possible firecrackers by the football field, Peterson responded: “We also heard it’s by, inside the 1200 building.”
An attorney for Peterson did not respond to a message seeking comment Friday about whether the former deputy stands by his earlier statement saying he “heard gunshots but believed that those gunshots were originating from outside of any of the buildings on the school campus.”
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, at the governor’s order, has launched a review of the police response to the shooting. Confusion frequently occurs during the initial law enforcement responses to mass shootings as officers rush toward evolving, dangerous situations in crowded public spaces; after-action assessments, commonly launched after such attacks, often find ways to help improve police responses.
The police timeline, which officials warned could change as the investigation progresses, says Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old indicted in connection with the massacre, arrived at the school at 2:19 p.m. One minute earlier, he had texted a friend whose family he was staying with.
“Hey yo, hey whatcha doin?” Cruz texted the friend, a junior at Stoneman Douglas who was in class at the time, according to a lawyer for the friend’s family.
Cruz walked into the building at 2:21 p.m. and began to fire an AR-15 he had legally purchased, police said. A fire alarm was activated a minute later, and the 911 calls began to flood in. More than 150 calls were made to 911, police said, many coming from people who had children or other relatives trapped in the school.
“Multiple gunshots are being fired,” a police dispatcher in Coral Springs, Fla., a neighboring city, said in one recording. “We can hear them in the background. Our 911 lines are blowing up.”
A woman called 911 and said her son, a junior, told her there was a shooting. The dispatcher reassured her that police were on the scene.
“Is it secure?” the woman quickly asked. The dispatcher said she did not know.
Another mother called to say her daughter was hiding behind a desk. A woman called in to say her son had called but she could not hear him, so they were exchanging text messages.
She said her son texted him: “Shot, shot, shot. Mom, God.”
A male voice called 911 and whispered to a dispatcher: “Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is being shot up.” The dispatcher could not hear much else he said, and the line went dead not long after.
As these terrified calls mounted and word spread of the gunfire, police were frantically rushing to the shooting scene. Peterson had arrived near the building where the massacre was unfolding at 2:23 p.m., just two minutes into the shooting, the police timeline shows. Recordings captured him giving directions, calling for officers to lock down the school and to block pedestrian traffic on nearby Holmberg Road.
Other officers were en route. At one point, an officer said they heard shots were possibly fired by the football field. At 2:26 p.m., the gunman begins firing rounds at a third-floor window, according to the police timeline.
“I hear shots fired,” Peterson said over the radio.
The Broward County Sheriff’s Office said it does not believe anyone was struck by those bullets. “The hurricane glass remained intact,” a spokeswoman wrote in an email Friday.
By 2:27 p.m., six minutes after the gunfire began, the shooting stopped. Seventeen people had been fatally shot, and 17 others had been wounded. Cruz was seen on video abandoning his gun, police said, and then walking out of the building and heading west, blending in with the fleeing students.
While the gunman walked away, Peterson ordered other officers to remain outside the building, according to the police timeline. How other deputies responded has prompted scrutiny; some Coral Springs police officers said they arrived to find multiple Broward deputies outside. The sheriff’s office has said it is investigating those allegations.
Peterson’s attorney said last week that the former deputy was following procedures for gunfire outdoors by seeking cover and trying to assess the situation. Israel, the sheriff, argued that Peterson should have confronted the killer inside the building. The sheriff’s office, when asked Friday about Peterson’s directive to other officers to remain outside, pointed to its active-shooter protocol, which states that deputies “may enter the area and/or structure to preserve life.”
Not all of the law enforcement communications during the shooting and after were made public. The sheriff’s office said Peterson used a handheld radio to communicate with school security personnel, but those transmissions were not recorded.
Officers on the ground faced other communication problems. The sheriff’s office said its deputies and the Coral Springs officers were unable to communicate on the same radio channel during the shooting response. Officers also “may have been unable to transmit or receive some radio messages” because the Broward radio system, which the county plans to replace, can become overloaded when too many people use it — which the sheriff’s office said happened during the response to the shooting.
After the shooting ended, officers were unsure where the gunman went.
“We need to get units in here so we can start trying to find this guy,” one deputy said. A captain asked whether a perimeter had been set up and the school cleared, only to be told no on both counts.
At 2:32 p.m., 11 minutes after the gunfire began, officers entered the building, the timeline shows. The sheriff’s office declined to comment on whether that was too much of a delay, citing the ongoing state investigation. The suspected shooter was taken into custody walking in a nearby neighborhood a little more than an hour later, after he stopped by a Walmart and a McDonald’s, police said.
Police say Cruz confessed not long after his arrest, and his lawyers also have said he was the shooter. He was indicted Wednesday on 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder. On Friday, Cruz made a brief appearance at his arraignment, staring silently at his shackled hands while a judge again declined to release him on bond.
On the day of the shooting, while police said Cruz left the campus by hiding among fleeing students, terrified parents and relatives kept trying to contact 911 to report the shooting and find out what was happening inside the school.
The mother who urged her daughter to play dead also told her to remain calm while the girl continued to hide. The woman was with a man who called 911 for her and put the phone on speaker, and during the emotional 16-minute call, the dispatcher offered advice and tried to follow what was happening.
The call ended when the woman’s daughter said police had arrived and were taking students out of the classroom. The dispatcher thanked the man who had called 911. And then, before disconnecting, she quietly said to herself: “Oh my god.”
Kevin Sullivan contributed to this report.