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Miami (AFP) – The Florida sheriff’s deputy branded a “coward” for failing to confront a school shooter has broken his silence and said he wishes he could have done more.

“It’s haunting,” Broward County sheriff’s deputy Scot Peterson told The Washington Post. “I’ve cut that day up a thousand ways with a million different what-if scenarios, but the bottom line is I was there to protect, and I lost 17.”

Peterson, 55, was the only armed deputy on the campus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14 when a troubled ex-student opened fire on his former classmates with an AR-15-style rifle.

Fourteen students died along with three adult staff members at the school in Parkland, Florida.

Surveillance video showed Peterson, a 30-year veteran of law enforcement, standing outside the building where the shooting took place but he never went in.

Peterson was forced to resign from the Broward County Sheriff’s Office and was publicly denounced as a “coward” by US President Donald Trump and others.

Peterson’s lawyer issued a statement in late February defending his actions but Peterson had not spoken publicly about that day until he was interviewed by the Post and NBC’s “Today” show.

He was asked by NBC if he acknowledges having failed to live up to his responsibilities.

“I have to,” Peterson said. “I live with that. You know, how could I not?

“I mean, I’m human,” he said. “In a perfect world, I would have said, ‘Oh, yeah, I know there was a shooter there. Let me go to the third floor, find this person.’

“Knowing what I know today I would have been in that building in a heartbeat,” he said. “It was my kids. I didn’t know. I wrack my brain, I go why?”

In the Post interview, Peterson said he was confused as to where the gunshots were coming from and took exception with people saying he did nothing.

“How can they keep saying I did nothing?” he said. “I’m getting on the radio to call in the shooting.

“I’m locking down the school. I’m clearing kids out of the courtyard. They have the video and the call logs. The evidence is sitting right there,” he said.

“There wasn’t even time to think,” Peterson said. “It just happened, and I started reacting.”

At the end of the day, however, “it was my job, and I didn’t find him,” Peterson said of the gunman.

The 19-year-old school shooter fired between 100 and 150 rounds in a rampage that lasted about six minutes before he discarded his weapon and fled the school by blending in with other students.

He was arrested shortly afterwards and has been charged with multiple counts of murder.

Peterson served as a “school resource officer” — a member of law enforcement who provides security at a school — for more than two decades.

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