Grieving fathers continue to blame Peterson over ‘inaction’ during Parkland school shooting

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The grieving fathers of some of the victims of the 2018 Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland shared their pain after a jury acquitted former Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputy Scot Peterson on Thursday.

The fathers of five of the 17 killed — Gina Montalto, 14; Alaina Petty, 14; Luke Hoyer, 15; Joaquin Oliver, 17, and Meadow Pollack, 18 — reacted with outrage after a jury found Peterson not guilty of child neglect, culpable negligence and perjury charges.

Peterson’s charges were related to the six the shooter killed and the four he wounded on the third floor of the school’s 1200 building. Prosecutors argued he fit the legal definition of a caregiver, as he was “responsible for a child’s welfare,” and that he had not made a “reasonable effort” to protect them.

“The attorney said it has been four years of pain. Tell me about that pain. Tell Patricia about that pain,” Joaquin’s father, Manuel Oliver, told CNN about comments made by attorney Mark Eiglarsh, who represented Peterson.

Joaquin and Meadow were among the six who died on the third floor. Gina, Alaina, and Luke were among the 11 victims the shooter killed on the first floor.

“For our families, we still feel he should be haunted every day by his failure to act,” Gina’s father, Tony Montalto, said in the courthouse. “His inaction contributed to the pain of our entire community, and we don’t understand how this jury looked at the evidence that was presented and found him not guilty.”

The defense argued Peterson, the school’s armed resource officer who decided to take cover during and after the massacre, did not know that the shooting was in the 1200 building, as many of the first responders did not.

Prosecutors offered no comment on their way out of the courtroom, but Eiglarsh told Local 10 News that it’s a big step for law enforcement officers moving forward.

“This is not just a victory for Scot, it’s a victory for every law enforcement officer in this country who does the best they can every single day,” he said.

“Scot Peterson: the face of cowardice. This ‘man’ is a stain on everyone that has put on the uniform. I love our police officers, but you cannot count on them to save you. Take your children out of public schools if you can afford to. It is of vital importance,” Meadow’s father, Andrew Pollack, wrote on Twitter.

“All the evidence, all the video just shows that he valued his life over the life of the people on the third floor,” said Luke’s father, Tom Hoyer, who was also in the courthouse.

The case against Peterson made U.S. history as it was the first time prosecutors filed charges against a law enforcement officer over his or her inaction during a school shooting and the first trial of its nature.

Alaina’s father, Ryan Petty, released a statement saying the jury’s verdict did not absolve Peterson of his failures on Feb. 14, 2018.

“Peterson was at the door of the building, heard shots, and retreated to cover, remaining there for 48 minutes while the killer continued his rampage,” he wrote. “Peterson remained behind that cover even after other members of law enforcement had entered the building and were treating casualties. He will have to live with his failures for the rest of his life.”

Before exiting the courtroom, Peterson told Local 10 News that he would love to talk to the Parkland parents who lost their loved ones.

“No, no, bring me my daughter back,” said Tony Montalto in response to Peterson’s comments. “Why do we need to talk to this failure?”

The fathers were also disappointed by the shooter’s sentence of life in prison when Florida law used to require a jury’s unanimous agreement.

“I feel that my faith in the U.S. justice system is shaken,” Tony Montalto said on Thursday afternoon. “All I can say to the members of the jury is I think your school should hire him to protect your children.”

The others killed on the third floor were Jaime Guttenberg, 14; Cara Loughran, 14; Peter Wang, 15; and Scott Beigel, 35.

The others killed on the first floor were Alyssa Alhadeff, 14; Martin Duque, 14; Alexander Schachter, 14; Carmen Schentrup, 16; Helena Ramsay, 17; Nicholas Dworet, 17; Aaron Feis, 37; and Chris Hixon, 49.

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About the Authors:

In January 2017, Hatzel Vela became the first local television journalist in the country to move to Cuba and cover the island from the inside. During his time living and working in Cuba, he covered some of the most significant stories in a post-Fidel Castro Cuba. 

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.