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'Washington Post' Reporter Discusses Time With Former Broward County Sheriff Deputy


Scot Peterson was on duty at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last February when a shooter killed 17 people. Peterson was the school resource officer, the Broward County deputy assigned to the high school in Parkland. And he was the only officer carrying a gun that day. As details about the shooting came out, Peterson became the focus of intense criticism. President Trump was one of many who asked why Peterson didn't do something more to stop the killing.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Frankly, you had a gun. And he was outside as a guard, and he decided not to go in. That was not his finest moment. That, I can tell you.

SHAPIRO: Since that day, Peterson has been hiding out at his home in Florida. The Washington Post's Eli Saslow spent four days with Peterson. And Saslow joins us now.

Hi, Eli.

ELI SASLOW: Hi. How are you?

SHAPIRO: What were your first impressions of Scot Peterson?

SASLOW: My first impressions were that he was pretty damaged. I mean, I think he's been sort of living not only almost in hiding for the last several months but also sort of inside the echo chamber of his own head - you know, wondering what more he could have done, why he didn't maybe put things together and see the signs of a shooting happening inside that building as quickly as he wishes he did, you know - the same cycle of sort of doubts and regrets and questions going on again and again inside his little duplex now for three months.

SHAPIRO: And as he obsessively asks these questions, has he - or were you able to find any answers?

SASLOW: I hope the answer from the story is yes. But of course, the other truth is the answers for him are never satisfying. I mean, I think the big thing that held him up in getting into that building is that he feels like he didn't hear as many shots as he would have expected to hear. You know, the gunman fired more than 150 times, and he remembers hearing two or three shots. And he didn't know where the gunfire was coming from.

SHAPIRO: Your piece opens with some elderly neighbors bringing cookies to Scot Peterson's place. Describe that scene for us.

SASLOW: Yeah. I think he mostly is living inside of this house, and nobody comes in. There's a sheet up over the door that covers the door so that nobody can see inside. You know, there have been not only media trucks over the last months but also people coming to deliver lawsuits, people who are coming to sort of protest vocally outside his house. On this occasion, when I was there, he opened the door for these two neighbors who come over every once in a while to check on him because they, like everybody else, had seen again and again how he was treated on the news and by so many people who had been there that day. So they'd come over to check on him, and what they found was somebody who obviously was not doing very well.

SHAPIRO: Not doing very well in the sense that there was a lot of jitteriness. I mean, you paint a picture of somebody who is not in a good emotional place.

SASLOW: Yeah. I mean, I think - of course, that's partly because of the shame of what he's become in terms of public perception. But I think, frankly, the thing that he struggles with much more is his own feelings of uncertainty about that day. And, you know, he was the only officer with a gun at that school. He was sworn to serve and protect those kids. And for the most part, those kids really cared about him. I mean, they called him Dep. They invited him to proms and football games. And no matter which way he cuts it up or thinks about it again and again, he feels like he was there to protect the kids and he lost 17, and 17 more were injured.

SHAPIRO: So many people have spoken publicly about him without speaking to him. Now that you've spent four days with him, what do you think those people who speak about him get right? And what do you think they got wrong?

SASLOW: I think that sometimes we have a tendency to oversimplify - I mean, especially when something is so messy and chaotic and horrible as a mass shooting at a school. And there's something a little bit comforting about thinking that - you know, oh, if this officer had just gone inside, it wouldn't have been as bad as it was. What people sometimes are afraid to stare at directly is that these events are incredibly chaotic, horrific massacres that are really hard to put together, even in the weeks and months that follow in terms of investigations and much more hard to figure out in the six or seven minutes when the shooting unfolds.

And of course he's thinking again and again how he failed or feels like he failed during those 49 seconds. But it's - I don't think it's quite as simple as saying somebody is a hero or a coward or there is some binary choice. That's a really messy, complicated situation to suddenly be in.

SHAPIRO: Eli Saslow of The Washington Post, thanks a lot.

SASLOW: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.