Grady Judd

Sheriff’s investigators have learned what drew murder suspect Bryan Riley to a quiet north Lakeland neighborhood where his delusions of a sex-trafficking operation led to a rampage that killed four people and wounded another, Sheriff Grady Judd said this morning.

Riley, a 33-year-old Brandon resident, came to North Socrum Loop Road on Saturday evening after a friend who lives there invited him to pick up a first-aid kit for Riley’s planned trip to deliver supplies to victims of Hurricane Ida, Judd said during a 36-minute news conference.

After a short visit with his friend, Riley left around 7:10 p.m. Saturday and stopped his vehicle when he saw a man mowing a lawn and a pre-teen girl in a yard on Socrum Loop north of Fulton Green Road, Judd said.

Riley stopped because he thought the child he saw was “Amber,” who Judd described as fictional but who in Riley’s mind was a real-life girl who he was trying to save from suicide after she had been a victim of sex trafficking.

Riley spoke with 40-year-old Justice Gleason and his mother-in-law, who both told him there was no Amber at their address, Judd said. They asked him to leave and told him they were going to call law enforcement. Riley left angered that his efforts to rescue Amber were rebuffed, Judd said, adding that Riley made no threats of violence.

Other than that encounter, detectives have found no connection between Riley and the people who were later murdered, Judd said. And he emphasized that there was no sex trafficking in the house where the murders took place, despite Riley’s delusions.

Riley returned to his Brandon home and argued with his girlfriend of four years, Judd said. A video recording shows him leaving his house a 1:30 the next morning, Sunday, with a large shoulder bag and driving away in a black F-150 later found at the murder scene, Judd said.

Judd started the news conference with information about how people can help the victims’ family with medical, funeral and other costs: Donate via Polk Sheriff’s Charities; go the donation form and use the pulldown menu to select “Quadruple Homicide Victims.” Unlike GoFundMe accounts that have been set up, 100% of proceeds will go directly to family members, Judd said.

The sheriff then gave a narrative of what is so far known to have happened over the next few hours, pieced together from interviews with Riley and the 11-year-old girl who Riley thought he had killed but who survived:

Riley told investigators that he returned to the address North Socrum Loop where he had spoken with the two adults and seen the young girl, and “did reconnaissance outside the house in the moonlight.” (Judd noted that Riley used language that reflected his training in executive protection and security. Riley, who had been a marksman in the U.S. Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan, has received 16 security and tactical certifications, Judd said.)

Riley positioned his truck for a quick getaway, determined there were three entries to the house, slashed tires on two vehicles, set up glow sticks along the driveway to illuminate an exit path for himself and Amber, and doused two vehicles with gasoline, succeeding in setting fire to one, as a diversion.

Riley told investigators he first entered a small apartment behind the main house on the property. Unable to enter through the front door using his “breaching tools,” he shot through a window and entered the apartment.

He told investigators he “cleared the house” in his search for Amber. Judd said that was Riley’s jargon for killing the 62-year-old woman who lived there — the woman he had encountered in the front yard the day before.

Riley said he had “dumped a mag,” meaning he shot an entire magazine of ammunition entering the apartment and shooting its occupant, according to Judd.

Next he entered the house by shooting or breaking a glass door in the rear. He told investigators he “moved through the fatal funnel.” Judd said that meant the hallway.

Riley, who had for the previous week been telling people he had become able to communicate directly with God, told investigators that “God told me I was protected.”

He went into a bedroom and shot the family dog twice, even though the dog showed no aggression, Judd said.

Then he tried to go into the bathroom and somebody on the other side of the door pushed back. The family had huddled in the bathroom to hide from the intruder, Judd said.

Riley forced his way in and then shot and killed Gleason and his 33-year-old significant other, Judd said. Riley saw the 11-year-old girl hiding between a cabinet and the toilet and led her to the living room, demanding to know where Amber was, according to Judd.

“I’m not Amber. There is no Amber,” the girl said.

Riley counted down: three – two – one. Then he shot the girl in the stomach and the thigh, Judd said.

“And she said, ‘And I grabbed the wound. And he asked me again. And shot me again,’ ” Judd said.

“Then this evil human being told us ‘I tortured her in order to investigate” in order to find Amber, Judd said.

Then Judd held up two photos of a muscle-bound Riley and said, “This is the big bad dude that tortured an 11-year-old child and murdered a 3-month-old baby and the 3-month-old baby’s mother and father.

The photos of Riley that Judd displayed

“Then this guy says to the 11-year-old, ‘Do you know why I killed your parents? They’re sex traffickers.’ He said next, “I shot her in the legs. And then when she wouldn’t tell me where Amber was, I eliminated her.’ “

Riley thought that he killed the child, but she told investigators she played dead and she prayed. “And that’s the reason she’s alive today,” Judd said.

“I can’t underscore enough her bravery , her ability to think through how to survive when she had just witnessed father, her baby brother and her step mother viciously murdered right before her very eyes,” Judd said.

Lt. Duane Tompkins of the Sheriff’s Department had heard automatic gunfire at 4:22 a.m. while on a call two miles away and hurried to the scene, sending all the personnel he could muster, Judd has said.

When he arrived, he tried the front door and was unable to enter. He tried the broken back door and encountered Riley in battle armor, Judd has said. Both fired their weapons and retreated.

More shots were fired between Riley and law enforcement officers who had gathered on the property. In all, Riley fired around 59 times in the course of the morning and law enforcement officers — five sheriff’s deputies and one Lakeland Police officer — shot more than 100 rounds, Judd said.

It was during the second shootout, investigators believe, that one of the deputies’ rifle bullets struck Riley, Judd said. “It was a side-to-side wound. It actually went through the vest he was wearing, but it did not enter the cavity. It just went through the exterior portion of his stomach.”

Riley applied some material to stop the bleeding, removed his armor, put down his weapons (Deputies later found three weapons in the house, none of them belonging to family members) and surrendered, walking outside with his hands up.

“That’s right. He didn’t want to die, … An absolute coward. He looks like a man, but he’s not a man,” Judd said, again displaying the photos of muscle-bound Riley. “He was a big bad dude, but when he got shot by the good guys, he folds up.”

Riley was treated for his wounds nearby and at Lakeland Regional Health and then was booked into the Polk County Jail, where he is being held without bail. He was charged with multiple felonies:

  • Four counts of first-degree murder
  • Seven counts of attempted first-degree murder of law enforcement officers
  • A separate count of attempted murder
  • One count of arson
  • Two counts of armed burglary with assault
  • Shooting into a building.

Read the probable cause arrest affidavit.

Judd described the work at the crime scene as “the most extensive” he can remember and said the investigation will continue for many weeks.

The 11-year-old girl is at Tampa General Hospital, where she had undergone four surgeries and is in intensive care, Judd said. He said she has at least seven bullet holes; family members said there were 11 wounds.

During the news conference, Judd was asked about Riley’s statement to investigators that he had been high on methamphetamines. Investigators have not yet determined “if that was accurate or if it was some of his rambling,” Judd said. “We have found evidence of illegal steroid use.”

Toward the end of his presentation, Judd called Riley “totally evil. There’s not words to adequately describe the rage that we all feel about what he did to this innocent family. who was simply sleeping in their home. And they happened to be the unfortunate ones that he passed by that afternoon.”

SEND CORRECTIONS, questions, feedback or news tips:


Something went wrong. Please refresh the page and/or try again.

Barry Friedman founded in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

Leave a comment

Your Thoughts On This? (Comments are moderated; first and last name are required.)