A shooting north of Lakeland this morning left four dead, including a 3-month-old infant. An 11-year-old was shot multiple times. After two shootouts with deputies, the suspect is in custody after being treated for injuries.
At a news conference at the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff Grady Judd said Bryan Riley, 33, from Brandon, had no apparent connection to the victims.
Judd said his agency first received a suspicious vehicle tip around 7:23 p.m. Saturday from a house on N Socrum Loop Road. Judd said deputies, who arrived six minutes later, were told a man had got of the vehicle and said, “God sent me here to speak with one of your daughters, Amber.” He told those at the residence he was there to prevent Amber from committing suicide but two people told him there was no Amber there. They told him they’d call the cops if he didn’t leave, Judd said, and he told them they didn’t need to because “I’m the cops for God.”
The deputies did not find a vehicle or Riley after more than 20 minutes of searching the area.
Around 4:30 a.m. Sunday, a lieutenant about 2 miles away from the house heard two volleys of gunfire and informed other deputies. Other calls of an active gunman began coming in through 911, Judd said, and Lakeland Police Department responded to the scene, too.
As they approached the same house from which they received the complaint, Judd said there was a truck on fire in front of the house and a man outfitted in camoflauge, but they saw no firearm. They saw a path of glow sticks that had been created leading up to the house.
Judd said the man then ran into the house, and deputies heard another round of gunshots, “a woman scream and a baby whimper.”
When deputies entered through the back of the house, they encountered Riley, who was dressed in body armor and a bulletproof vest. Riley shot at a deputy, Judd said. The deputy fired back before retreating from the house. Judd said Riley began shooting at deputies from inside and other law enforcement officers responded with gunfire to free three deputies who were pinned down by gunfire. None were injured, and Judd said dozens, if not hundreds, of rounds were fired in two shootouts. SWAT teams left the area a little after 9 a.m. Sunday.
A helicopter unit spotted Riley exiting the house with his hands raised. He had been shot once and was transported to Lakeland Regional Hospital. Judd said at the hospital, the man jumped and tried to grab a Lakeland officer’s gun, but was restrained and sedated.
Inside the house, they found an 11-year-old girl, a Lake Gibson Middle School student, who had been shot multiple times and was airlifted to Tampa General Hospital, Judd said. The 11-year-old told deputies there were three dead people in the house.
Judd said the scene was one of the most horrific he‘s seen in his career.
Officers found 40 year-old Justice Gleason and a 33-year-old woman holding the 3-month old who had all been shot and killed. The family dog had also been found shot dead. In a separate house behind the first home, a 62-year-old woman related to the family had been shot dead.
Inside Riley’s truck, which had a Marine Corps license plate, Judd said blood stop and first aid kids were found. At least two and maybe three firearms were found at the scene too, he said.
Judd said the man told officers, “You know why I did this.”
According to Judd, Riley told officers that he was “a survivalist” and told them that he was taking meth.
Judd described Riley as a marine who was honorably discharged after serving four years during Sunday’s afternoon press conference. He served another three years in reserve. He was deployed to Iraq in 2008 and Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010, and was designated as a “sharp shooter.”
Riley’s girlfriend of four years told deputies that he had PTSD and depression but had never been violent. He worked for ESS Global Corporation, a company based in Tarpon Springs, as a security guard.
Judd said his girlfriend told deputies that after providing security at an event at a church in Orlando, Riley began saying he could speak directly to God, something he hadn’t said before. Over the last week, she told them his behavior became more erratic. She said he bought supplies for Hurricane Ida relief, including $1,000 worth of cigars, because God told him to.
Riley told his girlfriend that God told him to find Amber, Judd said. He said the girlfriend then told him he couldn’t actually talk to God and the two fought. She went to sleep, but when she woke up he was gone. She saw his phone GPS was located at the Polk County house and when she began hearing news reports, contacted the Sheriff’s Office.
Judd said she did not know of Riley using drugs previously.
”He is evil in the flesh,” Judd said. “Just because you have mental health issues, does not mean you are not criminally liable....This guy prior to this morning was a war hero. He fought for his country in Afghanistan, Iraq. He was a decorated veteran. This morning, he was a cold calculated murderer.”
He added: “The reality of it is this nation doesn’t do enough for those that are mentally ill. Now, there are millions in this nation who have mental health episodes who don’t do this.”
The 11-year-old is recovering at Tampa General Hospital. Deputies do not believe there are additional victims and Judd said deputies do not know how or why Riley found the Lakeland house.
Riley faces four counts of first-degree murder, a charge of attempted murder in the first degree with a weapon, a second-degree arson charge, two counts of armed burglary and seven counts of attempted murder of law enforcement. His first appearance is expected to be Monday.
Judd said law enforcement did not shoot at Riley after he exited the house with his hands up.
“It would have been nice if he would have come out with a gun and then we’d have been able to read a newspaper through him,” Judd said Sunday morning. “But when someone chooses to give up, we take them into custody peacefully. If he’d have given us the opportunity, we’d have shot him up alive. But he didn’t because he’s a coward.”