National News

Parkland Gunman Was Still Firing When Police Arrived on a Gruesome Scene

Posted April 13, 2018 8:23 p.m. EDT

MIAMI — Less than a minute after a sheriff’s deputy screamed into his police radio that shots had been fired at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, backup arrived to help — so quickly that the sound of active gunfire could still be heard, according to newly released police accounts of the Feb. 14 mass shooting in Parkland, Florida.

The firsthand police accounts released Friday by the Sheriff’s Office in Broward County make clear that the gunman was still carrying out his rampage as law enforcement officers started swarming into the school — yet he managed to slip away undetected. The accused gunman, a former student named Nikolas Cruz, was arrested about an hour later, walking down a residential street about 2 miles away.

A timeline of the police response released last month, citing police radio communications and school surveillance video, indicated that two deputies heard gunfire when they reached the school — one of them, Deputy Michael Kratz, two minutes after the shooting began and the other, Detective Brian Goolsby, three minutes later. The new reports show a third officer, Sgt. Brian Miller, also heard the shots.

Still, it took 11 minutes after the gunman opened fire for police officers from the neighboring city of Coral Springs to enter the freshman building where the shooting took place. By then, he had fled with other students running from the campus.

The Sheriff’s Office has faced intense scrutiny for failing to try to confront the gunman sooner, as dictated by protocol. The school resource officer who reported the shooting, Deputy Scot Peterson, who was the only armed guard on campus, remained outside the building, surveillance video showed.

The reports released Friday indicate that Peterson tried to secure a perimeter around the school instead of rushing into the building. He resigned after being placed under internal investigation for his actions, and the authorities are investigating whether other deputies also failed to go into the building when they should have.

But though Peterson reported by radio that shots were coming from “inside” the school, it was not clear that other officers knew the location of the gunman. “I did not know which building this was occurring,” Deputy William Hanks, who arrived later than the initial backup officers, said in his report. “I took a cover position behind my patrol car in order to quickly assess the situation and see if I could determine where on the school grounds this was happening because I did not hear any shots being fired,” he said.

“Within approximately thirty seconds I could see several Coral Springs police officers and a Broward Sheriff’s Office deputy running across the parking lot. Figuring that they knew which building to go to, I immediately ran to catch up to them,” Hanks reported.

In the new reports, nine law enforcement officers described a horrifying, bloody scene inside the building, where 17 people were killed and 17 others wounded in a rampage that lasted less than six minutes.

“I entered building 12 and immediately detected the odor of gunpowder and observed several people lying in the hallway in pools of blood,” one deputy wrote.

But none of the three deputies who arrived early and heard the gunshots made it into the freshman building. Goolsby, who wrote that he arrived less than a minute after Peterson put out the call for help, some time later tried to enter from the west side but ran into law enforcement officers who had gone in from the east.

“To mitigate a crossfire situation, I exited the building and continued to hold cover to the south while the other deputies and officers worked to clear the building and treat the injured,” he wrote.

The new police accounts echo audio recordings of dispatched paramedics, which were released Thursday by the Coral Springs-Parkland Fire Department. They make clear that emergency medical workers realized almost immediately that they faced mass casualties.

“This is going to be a big event,” a commander said on the radio, urging that the department contact all local hospitals. “We may be sending patients in all directions.”

For a long stretch of time, neither police nor paramedics knew the suspect’s whereabouts. Confused by surveillance video being watched on a 20-minute delay, they feared they were exposing themselves to more gunfire while trying to rescue victims, not knowing that the gunman was long gone.

For many emergency workers, reaching the school itself became a problem: “It’s a zoo,” an exasperated paramedic said, according to the recordings.

Even before they stepped into the building, several deputies recognized one of the victims lying dead outside the door. The victim’s name was blacked out of the reports. One of the deputies, Gennaro Volpe, also recognized an unidentified wounded male, according to his report.

Volpe helped paramedics transport the person to the hospital, leaning over the seat to hold on to the victim and speak to him, “but he did not respond back,” the deputy wrote. “During my conversation I only gave him words of encouragement that he was going to survive.”

Volpe was so bloodied upon his return to campus that a colleague helped him wipe down his arms with paper towels, he wrote. The deputy’s uniform, patrol rifle and Fitbit exercise watch, all soiled by blood, were photographed as evidence.