NewsPolk County


'Survivalist' shooter kills 4 in Lakeland, including infant, after 'God told him to,' sheriff says

11-year-old survived attack by playing dead
Posted at 10:14 AM, Sep 05, 2021

LAKELAND, Fla. — Four people were killed in a house in unincorporated Lakeland Sunday, including an infant, after the suspect said "God told him to do it."

Prior to that night, the suspect, identified as 33-year-old Bryan Riley, came to the home and asked where someone named Amber was, because he said God told him she was going to commit suicide. The family said they didn't know any Amber and there was no Amber there.

Riley left, angry that the man he talked to wouldn't let him see Amber.

After that, he said God told him he needed to kill everyone there because Amber was being human trafficked.

The Polk County Sheriff's Office said around 4:30 a.m Sunday., deputies responded after hearing rounds of gunfire from that home on North Socrum Loop Road near Fulton Green Road.

According to Sheriff Judd, the man entered the home to "clear the house" as he looked for Amber, who Judd said doesn't exist.

The family in the home was sleeping at the time, and huddled together in the bathroom. That's where Riley allegedly shot five people, including an infant, and killing four of them.

An 11-year-old was shot multiple times by the shooter, in the leg, thigh and abdominal cavity, Judd said. He also reportedly interrogated the girl on where he could find Amber.

Judd said Riley thought he left the 11-year-old for dead, but she survived by playing dead and praying.

"He thought he left her for dead but she was smarter than he was," Judd said. "God truly was with that little girl that evening."

When deputies arrived on the scene, they found Riley dressed in bulletproof gear from head to toe as he ran back inside the home. Deputies came in through the back of the home and exchanged gunfire with the suspect at one point, Judd said.

The man was shot in the stomach during the exchange and retreated back to the nursery in the home. He later surrendered with his hands up after realizing he was outmatched and taken to the hospital, the sheriff said.

No deputies were injured. All in all, about 60 shots were fired by PCSO, and the suspect fired over 100 times.

While being treated in the ER, the suspect tried to grab a Lakeland officer's gun and he fought with other officers. He was later medicated and treated, Sheriff Judd said.

Deputies made their way inside the home and found an 11-year-old girl with multiple gunshot wounds. She was airlifted to Tampa General Hospital where she was in surgery, Sheriff Judd said.

The 11-year-old girl told deputies there were more people dead inside the home. Deputies later found 40-year-old Justice Gleason, a 33-year-old woman, a 3-month-old infant and the family dog dead in one home, Sheriff Judd said. Sheriff Judd also said deputies found the woman holding the baby in her arms.

In another home, a 62-year-old woman was found dead.

"It's easy to shoot innocent children and babies and people when you have a gun and they don't. He was not much of a man," Sheriff Judd said.

Sheriff Judd said the suspect told deputies he took meth before the shooting and said he was a survivalist. The shooter also told deputies, "You know why I did this."

There is no known connection between Riley and the victims.

The sheriff says this was the most extensive crime scene he could remember.

According to an affidavit, "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."

The suspect's fiance stated he "has been acting very strangely over the last seven days," according to the affidavit.

She told deputies the suspect "does executive protection/bodyguard related work and after working a special detail at a church in Orlando, he believed he could speak with 'God.'"

Still, Sheriff Judd said the woman had seen the suspect depressed, but not violent.

Sheriff Judd said Riley is a decorated Marine veteran and served in Iraq in 2008 and Afghanistan in 2009-2010.

“At the end of the day, when you look, this guy, prior to this morning, was a war hero. He fought for his country in Afghanistan and Iraq," Sheriff Judd said.

Sheriff Judd said Riley had virtually no criminal history.

Riley lives in Brandon and Sheriff Judd said they are not sure why he went to Lakeland.

A neighbor of the victims said Riley knocked on his door just before the mass shooting.

"To be honest with you I haven’t slept in two days because of what happened. I was just thinking what would have happened if I would’ve opened that door,” said Miguel Rivera.

Frank Pack, Riley's neighbor, told ABC Action News he saw the news of a shooting on Facebook earlier in the day but had no way of knowing the suspect lives across the street.

“To tell me this kid is over there doing a shooting — I can’t believe it, really. I just can’t believe it."

He knows Riley's mother and describes them as "very nice people."

Pack said he's a Vietnam veteran and his two sons have been deployed to Afghanistan in the past. He brought up the importance of mental health support for veterans.

“They used to have to go see people, talk about it," Pack said of his children. "I thought that was the greatest thing in the world. You know, you get over there, I mean I was over in Vietnam, so you know you get that stuff in there and it’s great when somebody can come along and get it out of you.”

Riley was treated and released from the hospital and is now in custody.

The affidavit states:

"In summary, the suspect admitted to shooting several people at the incident location and stated voices and 'God' told him to do it. The suspect described details of the indicant that were not public knowledge. 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.' The suspect also admitted to setting fire to a pick-up truck at the incident location for the purpose of creating an exit strategy. The suspect also admitted to grabbing and attempting to take Officer Mcguirk's gun."

The sheriff's office said on Monday that the 11-year-old girl was in critical but stable condition.

On Monday morning, a judge denied bond for Riley on murder and attempted murder charges.

Sheriff Judd said several GoFundMe links exist to help the family, but recommended giving through the Polk Sheriff's Office charity instead where 100% of the funds would go to the family.