Scot Peterson, the former school cop vilified after the Parkland shooting, appeared on television Tuesday to address accusations of him being a “coward” on the day of the massacre.

In the first of a two-part interview on NBC’s “Today” show, the former Broward sheriff’s deputy spoke about the confusion, indecision and system failures surrounding the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

“Those are my kids in there,” Peterson said in the interview. “I never would have sat there and let my kids get slaughtered like that. Never.”

Peterson’s comments this week have drawn criticism from the Stoneman Douglas students’ parents, including Manuel Oliver, the father of Joaquin Oliver, one of the 17 who died. At a news conference Tuesday, Oliver said it’s too late for Peterson to explain his inaction.

Oliver also took offense to Peterson calling the students his kids. “I want to make sure when this guy refers to the kids as ‘his kids’ — that is not true,” Oliver said. “Those are our kids, and they’re always going to be our kids.”

Responding to how Peterson said he was uncertain about where shots were being fired on campus, Oliver said Peterson was supposed to be trained for such emergencies.

“What is that supposed to mean? We saw you outside the building. Students were inside the building … where Joaquin was. That is a very poor explanation or excuse.”

“We have to live with his decision that he made every single day. We have to live with that and the other 16 families, too,” Oliver said. “This is not about him. This is not even about us. This is about Joaquin and the other 16 victims. Don’t change the story because we all know what happened.”

Peterson’s television appearance came a day after the Washington Post published a lengthy article in which Peterson detailed his actions and thoughts the day of the shooting.

On the “Today” show, Peterson said he wasn’t scared because there was no time to be scared. He was trying to locate the source and direction of the gunfire that was first reported to him as firecrackers. “As we approached the building I hear two or three loud shots,” he said. “I immediately stop and I think to myself, ‘Oh my God, I hear shots outside.'”

Peterson said he had his gun drawn and thought it may have been a repeat of the Las Vegas mass shooting, which left 58 dead and hundreds more injured.

“I believed there was a sniper,” he said. “In my mind, I believed maybe there was somebody up there shooting out but I didn’t think they were shooting at the kids, I thought they were shooting out [of] the building.”

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By 2:23 p.m., 911 calls from frightened students inside had been routed to Coral Springs Police, who were responding as the Broward Sheriff’s Office was arriving and the radio chatter on different frequencies contributed to the confusion, Peterson said he learned afterward.

“No intel,” he said. “No real-time intelligence whatsoever … inside the building or even at the school.”

There were reports that the gunfire was coming from the school’s football field, he said. “I didn’t know if it was in [the school],” he said. “I didn’t know if it was outside.”

School surveillance videos showed Peterson standing against a wall and not entering the 1200 building. He said he was just following his training.

“I have my gun out and I’m standing and I’m looking. This is what we are trained to do,” he said. “When you’re in a position and covered, we are trained to scan and look.”

Peterson said he thought the school was on lockdown and there were no students walking around the building or campus during the shooting.

“When I heard those shots outside I didn’t even think someone was inside the building,” he said. “My mind was racing.”

Peterson said he tries to avoid dwelling on “what-ifs” because it’s too difficult to deal with.

“Knowing what I know, it’s awful,” he said. “It haunts me.”

Peterson said he understands the criticism he’s getting, but wants people to know both sides of the story.

“It’s easy for people to sit there and go, ‘Oh, he should’ve known that that person was up there,'” he told NBC. “It wasn’t that easy, it wasn’t. I’m never going to get over this, you know?”

wkroustan@sunsentinel.com or 954-356-4303 or Twitter @WayneRoustan

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