WINTER HAVEN, Fla. - While Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd understands information is still coming to light and officials are still investigating what led up to the mass shooting inside a Texas elementary school, he said there were two things that occurred that were "unacceptable."
"The doors weren’t locked, and he was in the school for an hour before they neutralized the threat. That is unacceptable," he said during a Friday press conference. "I have agreed to speak and give you some direction of what I believe should have happened based on the best information that I have and the training we have."
By his side were the parents of Alaina Petty, who was one of the victims of the Parkland school mass shooting. The couple has since moved from Broward County to Polk County.
"I’ve been pretty vocal on social media about the tragedy we keep learning about each day in Uvalde. I've watched the video…I’ve watched the failure and my heart breaks," Ryan Petty said. "It took months for us to understand Parkland. The simple act of locking that door in that school, all of those kids and those teachers might be alive today. Law enforcement could have addressed that threat outside of that school. It’s the little simple things like locking doors that can make all the difference. It is difficult to know how easily he got into the school."
Ryan was among those appointed to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission by Gov. Rick Scott. Now, he serves on the Florida State Board of Education.
Sheriff Judd said he isn't surprised by the police response.
"It was a very small community in a very rural part of the state," he said. "I will say this…but the overwhelming majority of the school districts in this country and the overwhelming amount of law enforcement officials in this country are not equipped to deal with an active shooter to the level that they need to be. You can always improve."
"Normally, small communities with small police departments have small funding," the sheriff added, "but at the end of the day, the training is what makes the difference."
When asked by a reporter about the push for stricter gun control laws, Sheriff Judd asked in return, "There was a law against murder that day, did they pay attention to that law?"
"It’s the person. It’s the deranged person," he went on to say. "Then I hear, ‘It’s a mental health issue.’ Well, duh. The issue is evil, deranged human conduct. Overwhelmingly, almost without exception, there’s always been cues leading up to it."
Meanwhile, Texas law enforcement officers were providing an update around the same time, revealing that Robb Elementary School shooter Salvador Ramos fired off "at least" 100 rounds on Tuesday, based on audio evidence.
They also said the door in which Ramos entered the school had been propped open by a teacher there prior to him crashing a vehicle near the building.
Sheriff Judd and Ryan emphasized the county's sentinel program, which set the standard for statewide legislation to be passed. The Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program was established in 2018 through the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act and is a training program to have people in place to respond to a school shooting. The program was named after one of the adult victims of the Parkland shooting.
The county hires safety guardians to be at every elementary school in the county. The sheriff's office will train them to carry and use a gun in active-shooter situations.
"We need guardians," Ryan said. "I went through that guardian training. I want to stand in front of the people of Florida and say that I know the training is good. I know the training is effective, and I would be happy to send my kids to a school that had guardians in that school. I went through with a group of teachers…I know they’re prepared and ready and willing to run to the threat and take out the threat. They’re capable of doing that."
The photo of Makenna Lee Elrod, a little girl victim of the shooting, is seen by flowers placed on a makeshift memorial in front of Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 25, 2022. (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images)
The sheriff said if anyone comes to a school, armed with a weapon, he promised deputies or a guardian will "eliminate the threat."
"We go individually to the threat and engage it. That’s what we train for. If they’re shooting at us. They’re not shooting at the children," he explained. "We don’t want to be shot either but given the choice of being shot and killed on the ground or those children dying, we’ll die every time. When you turn your children over to us, they are our children, all day long."
"Now if you have trouble understanding that….this is last thing you’ll see," the sheriff said before displaying a photo of deputies aiming a gun at the camera.
Sheriff Grady Judd holds a photo showing deputies aiming a weapon at the camera, saying "this is the last thing [an active shooter will] see." Ryan and Kelly Petty, who lost their daughter in the Parkland school mass shooting, also attended the press
Sheriff Judd said, on average, law enforcement response is about five minutes, but a shooter is active in the minutes before that.
"Quite frankly, ladies and gentlemen, an hour until they engaged the shooter? That is unacceptable," he said. "But you have to train for that. It’s hard to run into gunfire. If you’ve never had that opportunity…I can tell you it’s not fun. I have been there. It's not fun then, it’s not fun now. We’re going in and eliminating the threat, period."
As more information will be revealed during the latest mass shooting, Ryan offered one more piece of advice.
"There’s a lot to learn. If I could offer some advice to that law enforcement is they need to be clear of what they know and don’t know," he said, "and what they don’t know, they need to not be guessing in front of the public."