PARKLAND, Fla. (AP) — The sheriff’s deputy assigned to guard the Florida high school that was the scene of a mass shooting never entered the building to confront the suspect because he believed the gunfire was coming from outside, his attorney said Monday.

Scot Peterson has been called a coward and worse for failing to act during the massacre that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The criticism intensified Monday as President Donald Trump blasted the deputy and other officers who were there, saying they “weren’t exactly Medal of Honor winners.”

If he had been present, Trump said, he would have raced into the school during the attack even if he were unarmed.

Peterson’s attorney, issuing his first public statement about the attack, said it was “patently untrue” that the deputy failed to meet sheriff’s department standards or acted with cowardice at the scene of the Feb. 14 assault. He resigned after Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said he felt sick to his stomach over his deputy’s failure to intervene.

“Let there be no mistake, Mr. Peterson wishes that he could have prevented the untimely passing of the 17 victims on that day, and his heart goes out to the families of the victims in their time of need,” attorney Joseph DiRuzzo said in the statement.

The sheriff’s account of Peterson’s actions that day was a “gross oversimplification,” the attorney said.

The sheriff’s office declined comment, explaining that Peterson’s conduct is being investigated by its internal affairs division.

Speaking to a group of governors at the White House, Trump said: “You don’t know until you’re tested, but I think I really believe I’d run in there even if I didn’t have a weapon. And I think most of the people in this room would have done that, too.”

Peterson’s statement said he and a security specialist ran to the scene at first word of the shooting, a report that mistakenly said firecrackers were being set off near one building. He then heard gunshots “but believed that those gunshots were originating from outside of the buildings.”

Following his training to seek cover and assess the situation in the event of outdoor gunfire, he “took up a tactical position” between two nearby buildings while alerting dispatchers and initiating a “code red” lockdown of the campus, the statement said.

“Radio transmissions indicated that there was a gunshot victim in the area of the football field,” adding to his belief that the shooting was outside.

Gov. Rick Scott’s office has asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the police response, and the agency confirmed it would begin the probe immediately.

Meanwhile, a state Senate committee approved a bill Monday to raise the age for buying a gun from 18 to 21 and imposing a three-day waiting period for all gun purchases. The bill also would allow teachers to carry guns in schools if their school district approves and the teachers undergo law enforcement training and are deputized by the local sheriff’s office. About 300 gun safety advocates packed the room and dozens pleaded with senators to include an assault weapons ban in the bill. That idea was rejected on a 6-7 vote.

Parkland Mayor Christine Hunschofsky told the Senate Rules Committee that many in her community wanted more than the bill now being considered, but it least it is more than what the state currently has.

“I can tell you from my friends who’ve just buried their children, they want action. If it’s not perfect, it’s not perfect, but make it a first step in a longer discussion. Something has to change,” she said. “We all want to make sure this never happens again.”

Earlier, gun control supporters on the steps of the state Capitol kept up their protests. Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, now a Democratic candidate for governor, led more than 1,000 people rallying for a ban on assault rifles and criticizing the National Rifle Association for its proposal to arm teachers.

“We know that is dumb, dumb, dumb!” Levin said to cheers and applause despite the heavy rain.

Bused in from around the state, protesters wore orange T-shirts saying #GunReformNow.

Elsewhere, a wounded student who has undergone three surgeries and still has bullet fragments in her body thanked the doctors and first responders for helping her make what she says will be a full recovery.

Maddy Wilford, 17, said at a hospital news conference that it’s times “like these when I know that we need to stick together.”

Rescuers thought Wilford was dead when they found her inside the school. Pale and unresponsive, she was bleeding heavily from bullet wounds to her chest, abdomen and arm. A fire-rescue lieutenant was under orders to take her to a hospital 30 miles (50 kilometers) away but made what doctors called a life-saving decision to bring her instead to a closer hospital that had practiced an active shooter drill months earlier.

“She’s very lucky,” said Dr. Igor Nichiporenko, medical director of trauma services at Broward Health North.

On Sunday, thousands of students, many with their parents, entered the campus for the first time since the shooting, gathering backpacks and other belongings they abandoned as they escaped. The three-story building in which Nikolas Cruz allegedly fired his AR-15 assault weapon is now cordoned off by a fence.

By KELLI KENNEDY, BRENDAN FARRINGTON and CURT ANDERSON

(© Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.) 

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