Commanding officer initially ordered responding deputies to 'stage' not enter Stoneman Douglas, sources say

Fox News has learned that in the critical moments as first responding deputies were searching for an active shooter on the property of Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school, a commanding officer on scene apparently ordered some of the initial responders to “stage” and set up a “perimeter” outside -- instead of immediately ordering or allowing officers to rush in to neutralize the suspect, Nikolas Cruz.

“It’s atrocious,” a law enforcement source who was on the scene after the shooting told Fox News. “If deputies were staging it could have cost lives.”

The law enforcement source said responding deputies and officers were called to an active shooter scene in which they are trained to immediately “go, go, go” toward the direction of the shooter. “Every second is another life,” the source said.

The Broward County Sherrif’s Office policy on active shooters indicates responding deputies may enter the building to preserve life without permission. That remains the priority until various objectives are met such as the shooter being detained. The policy does not appear to list staging -- setting up an area to keep first responders safe before police secure a violent scene -- or a perimeter as an immediate priority.

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However, two law enforcement officials said the call for staging or a perimeter might not have been a bad call because staging and a perimeter eventually has to happen during most emergency situations and the commanding officer might have had information the rest of the crews did not.

Fox News spoke to Carla Kmiotek, a sergeant for the Coral Springs Fire Department who said she was one of the first responding officers to the scene on February 14. Kmiotek says an active shooter call is “multifaceted when discussing tactics and scene command. Our officers are trained to respond and immediately press to the threat.”

However, Kmiotek said, “Setting up a perimeter and incident command is a necessary element of the response... determined from the intelligence known as the event is unfolding.”

Fox News has repeatedly reached out to the Broward County Sheriff’s office — which was the commanding agency that day — for comment on the timeline of the shooting and also on the allegations of bad commands from any commanding officer. In an email, a BSO spokesperson wrote that the case remained active and ongoing and that no additional details were being released, per a Florida statute.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating all of the responding agencies and timeline of the day of the shooting. Fox News asked the FDLE about the specific allegations of bad commands or a pre-mature order to stage. In an email, an FDLE spokesperson wrote that its “review is active” and could not comment on the allegations.

One ranking Florida official close to the investigation told Fox News he and some of his colleagues have heard claims that some of the first responders at Stoneman Douglas were stalled getting inside because of bad commands.

Another source with close ties to a county and city official told Fox News a few of the responding officers on scene were very frustrated and one was brought to tears over the law enforcement response.

Kmiotek would not estimate or speculate how many officers were already on scene or how many had made it into the school when the stage and command orders were given. “When we are able to release our timeline in compliance with the investigation we will,” she said.

What appears to corroborate all of the sources’ allegations of bad commands is a portion of the February 14 dispatch log obtained by Fox News that appears to indicate there were several orders for crews to stage and form a perimeter. The logs appeared to indicate that at the same time these commands were given, law enforcement still had not located the active shooter and even a responding air crew refused to take off — apparently in fear of being shot down — because it was not established the shooter was in custody.

One law enforcement source said it still was an “extremely” active shooter situation since authorities had not located the shooter and critical emergency aircrews were not taking off. The source said deputies and police should be have been rushing in to neutralize the threat versus staging or setting up a perimeter.

Jeff Bell, the president of the Broward County Sheriff's Deputies Association, said it wasn't clear how many officers were already on the scene or in the school when the first perimeter and stage command came out. But Bell says unless “50” officers were already inside then it was a bad command to order staging. “If that is the correct log at ten minutes, that we were more concerned with the perimeter than finding the shooter, it was a bad command. It could have stalled our officers or cost lives.”

Bell said he estimates the dispatch log obtained by Fox News is 99 percent accurate.

According to multiple reports and police information, Nikolas Cruz entered Building 12 on the campus of Marjory Stoneman around 2:21 p.m. and began firing. Law enforcement tells Fox News the shooting lasted about seven and a half minutes.

According to a portion of the dispatch log, there was a call that came in at 2:23 p.m. from a female student about shots fired.

At 2:25 p.m., more “SHOTS FIRED” were recorded by responding officers or witnesses.

At 2:26 p.m., the log indicated another call came in advising the shooting was coming from “THE 1200 BLDG.”

At 2:26:56 p.m., Cruz was still firing, according to units on scene. “UNITS ADV SHOTS FIRED” the log read.

At 2:29 p.m., the log indicated responding officers did not know where Cruz was. “UKNOWN SHOOTER LOCATION,” the log read.

At 2:30 another active shooter call was logged, that a mother of a student advised, “HE HEARD SHOTS FIRED HE IS IN 11th GRADE IN A MATH CLASS UNK ROOM NUMBER.”

At this point, eleven minutes after it was believed Cruz first opened fire, the log indicated one of the commanding officers started ordering responding officers to begin forming a perimeter, which one law enforcement source said would go against all training to first neutralize the threat.

At 2:32 p.m., the dispatch call log indicated the first command to form a perimeter was issued, “17S1…NEED PERIMETER.”

Sources told Fox News the 17S1 insignia on the log that day is important because it is the insignia, or code, for who was making the commands. 17S1 stands for 17 Sierra One.

A short while later, as the dispatch log indicated the whereabouts of the shooter was unknown; the first command to “stage” apparently was given.

2:34:48 p.m., “17S1 STAGE SIDE SAWGRASS.”

Then, three minutes after that staging order, the log indicated the scene was still active as emergency aircrews indicated they would not go because it hadn’t been confirmed the shooter was in custody.

2:38 p.m., “AIR RESCUE ADVISED NOT LAUNCING UNTIL CONFIRMED SUBJ IS IN CUSTODY,” the log read.

At 2:47 p.m., 15 minutes after the first command to form a perimeter was issued and 13 minutes after the first command to stage was issued, the log indicated the SWAT team entered the school.

At 3:02 p.m., the log apparently indicated the 20-minute delay in surveillance that law enforcement was using to track down Cruz. “20 MIN DELAY FROM CAMERA HE EXITED THE BUILDING RUNNING SOUTH,” the log stated.

At 3:03 p.m. the log stated, “VIDEO SHOWS HE POSS MIXED WITH KIDS.”

At 3:10 the log indicated Nikolas Cruz has been identified by a baseball coach, “POSS STUDENT NICHOLAS CRUSE 43 FROM BASEBALL COACH.”

At 3:16 the log indicated Cruz was identified again. “UNIT ADV ON DISPATCH 11A THAT THE SUBJ IS POSS A WM NAMED NICHOLAS CRUZ, WM LSAW A BURG SHIRT, BLK SHORTS, WAS LAST SEEN ON S/E END OF THE SCHOOL…” the log stated.

Eventually, Cruz was apprehended near the school. He is currently in custody.

The Florida House has subpoenaed responding law enforcement agencies and the Broward County Public schools for records related to the shooting for its own investigation.

Matt Finn is a Fox News correspondent based in the Chicago bureau. Follow him on Twitter: @MattFinnFNC