ORLANDO, Fla. — An armored gunman killed four people — including an infant — in a neighborhood near Lakeland before shooting at law enforcement officers who responded to the scene early Sunday, according to the Polk County sheriff.
The man, identified as 33-year-old Bryan Riley, had “zero connection” to the victims, Sheriff Grady Judd said. Riley, of Brandon, is a former U.S. Marine and works as a bodyguard and security for ESS Global Corporation.
“[Riley] says at one point to the detective, ‘They begged for their lives, and I killed them anyway,’” the sheriff said at a press conference. “He was evil in the flesh. ... Total, total unprovoked mass murder.”
Riley, who told deputies he was a “survivalist,” also shot an 11-year-old girl, who is undergoing surgery at the hospital and is expected to recover, Judd said.
The deceased victims, who are related, include 40-year-old Justice Gleason, a 33-year-old woman, a 3-month-old baby boy and a 62-year-old woman. The sheriff declined to name the remaining victims, citing Marsy’s Law.
Riley also shot and killed the family’s dog, Diogi.
No officers were injured in the shootout. The gunman, who was shot once, was also taken to the hospital but has since been released and arrested, the sheriff said. He was charged with four counts of first-degree murder, among other felonies.
The sheriff said the incident began Saturday night when deputies received a call around 7:30 p.m. about a suspicious man who investigators identified as Riley in a vehicle near North Socrum Loop Road.
The caller said Riley pulled up in his vehicle and told her, “God sent me here to speak with one of your daughters, Amber.”
No one named “Amber” was there, but Riley would not leave, Judd said. Investigators believe he then approached Gleason, who was outside mowing his lawn.
“I’m here to talk to Amber,” Riley told him, according to Judd. “God sent me here because she’s going to commit suicide.”
Gleason and the 33-year-old female victim told Riley there was nobody named “Amber” there and he needed to leave before they called law enforcement, the sheriff said.
Deputies searched the area but did not find Riley at that time. Nine hours later, around 4:30 a.m., a Polk County lieutenant who was nearby heard two volleys of automatic gunfire coming from the area of the original call, Judd said.
As deputies and officers from other law enforcement agencies responded to the scene, they began getting 911 calls reporting an active shooter.
When they got there, officers saw a truck on fire in the front yard making popping noises and a trail of glow sticks. Riley was outside wearing camouflage but did not have a firearm, Judd said.
The sheriff said his deputies did not shoot Riley immediately because they didn’t see a gun, and it’s common in Polk County to see people who are going hunting or fishing wear camouflage.
Riley ran back inside the house and deputies heard another volley of gunfire, a woman scream and a baby whimper, Judd said. Law enforcement officers tried to get into the home through the front door but it was barricaded, the sheriff said.
When a lieutenant went in through the back of the house, Riley, who was now wearing a bulletproof vest and body armor, shot at him, Judd said. They exchanged gunfire before the lieutenant backed out of the house, Judd said.
Riley began shooting at law enforcement officers from inside the house, Judd said. Other units shot back in an attempt to help three deputies who were pinned down by gunfire, Judd said.
Riley eventually came out of the house with his hands up and surrendered, he said.
At the hospital, Judd said, Riley tried to grab an officer’s gun while he was being treated, so he had to be tied down and medicated.
“They had to fight with him,” the sheriff said.
Inside one house on the property, authorities found a girl who had been shot multiple times but was still alive.
“She looked our deputies in the eye and said, ‘There’s three more dead people in the house,’” Judd said.
The girl told investigators that Riley came into the house asking for “Amber” and then shot everybody, according to an arrest affidavit.
Gleason, the woman and the infant were discovered dead from gunshot wounds. The baby’s mother was holding him in her arms when they were killed, the sheriff said.
“They were huddling and hiding in fear,” Judd said.
At a second house on the property behind the first home, the 62-year-old woman was also found shot to death, Judd said. She was the infant’s grandmother.
Investigators said Riley told them the older woman was hiding and kept saying, “please no,” while he shot her, according to the affidavit.
Riley’s girlfriend told investigators that he had post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, but she had never seen him be violent, according to the sheriff.
Riley, who was honorably discharged, had been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan from 2008 to 2010 and was designated as a “sharpshooter,” Judd said.
Last Sunday, after working security at an Orlando church, Riley told his girlfriend that “God spoke to him and now he can talk directly to God,” the sheriff said. Later in the week, Riley said God told him to take relief supplies to Hurricane Ida victims and proceeded to buy them, Judd said.
Riley’s girlfriend said he became more erratic, buying $1,000 worth of cigars.
After telling Gleason about his vision Saturday, Riley went back to Brandon and told his girlfriend about the incident, Judd said.
“She said, ‘Look, you’re not talking to God directly,’” the sheriff said. “He gets mad and said, ‘There’s no room for doubters in my life.’ He got upset but he didn’t threaten anybody. He went to his man cave.”
Judd said Riley’s girlfriend was “mortified and shocked” when she learned Sunday about the shooting.
“His girlfriend said he made zero statements about being violent and dangerous,” he said.
The sheriff said Riley told authorities he was taking methamphetamine.
“The suspect admitted to shooting several people at the incident location and stated voices and ‘God’ told him to do it,” the affidavit said. “... The suspect denied knowing the victims and when asked for a motive for shooting the infant, the suspect replied, ‘... Because I’m a sick guy. I want to confess to all of it and be sent to jail.’”
His truck was loaded with supplies for a battle, including first-aid kits, which caused deputies to fear there were “booby traps” inside the home, Judd said.
“This is a horrific incident,” said Brian Haas, the state attorney for Polk, Highlands and Hardee counties, at an earlier press conference. “Our community and many families are hurting this morning.”