Bryan Riley
Bryan Riley

5:30 P.M. UPDATE: A gunman in military armor who said he was high on methamphetamines shot and killed four people, including an infant, in two houses off North Socrum Road early this morning, then exchanged gunfire with deputies and police before surrendering, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said.

An 11-year-old girl who was in the house where three of the victims were killed had received at least seven bullet wounds, Judd said; she was airlifted to Tampa General Hospital and is expected to recover following surgery, he said.

Police know of no connection between the assailant and the victims, Judd said.

The only victim whose name was released is Justice Gleason, 40, of Lakeland. The others in the same house who died were a 33-year-old woman, whose family did not want her name released, and the three-month-old son she was cradling.

The fourth person who was shot and killed is a 62-year-old woman who lived in a small house immediately behind the house where the other victims were found. Judd described her as the infant’s grandmother.

The family’s dog was also shot and killed. In a “horrible irony,” Judd said the dog was named DiOGi in memory of a Polk County Sheriff’s Office K9 who was killed along with his handler, Deputy Matt Williams, in 2006.

Judd identified the suspect as Bryan Riley, 33, of Brandon, who served with the U.S. Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan as a sharpshooter. Riley, who works as a bodyguard, has “virtually no police record,” Judd said. He was honorably discharged after four years of active duty and then served three more years in the reserves.

Riley’s girlfriend of four years, told Polk Sheriff’s investigators that Riley had suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome and had shown signs of depression but had never before been violent or threatened violence. However, during the last week, Riley had told her of serving as a messenger of God.

“We have a guy who was becoming delusional, and his girlfriend said he progressively got worse as the week went on, but still he wasn’t being violent, according to her, or threatening any violence,” Judd said.

No police officers were injured during two exchanges of gunfire.

The address of the shootings has not been released, but the Polk Sheriff’s Office said it is on North Socrum Loop Road near Fulton Green Road.

Deputies responded at 4:22 a.m. after a Sheriff’s Office lieutenant two miles away heard what sounded like automatic gunfire, Judd said at a 10 a.m. news conference held at nearby Lake Gibson High School.

Responding officers in multiple cars from the PCSO and Lakeland Police Department saw a man in military body armor who “looked as if he was going to engage us in an active shooter situation but we didn’t see a firearm,” Judd said.

The man ran into the nearby house, and officers soon heard more gunfire, a woman scream and a baby whimper, Judd said.

Video: Polk County Sheriff’s Office News Conferences

A PCSO lieutenant trying to enter the front door found it barricaded; he then went in through a back door, was shot at, returned fire, and backed out of the house, he said.

More gunfire was exchanged between the suspect and law enforcement officers, said Judd, who estimated “dozens if not hundreds” of rounds were fired.

back door
The back door where a PCSO lieutenant entered the house | Polk County Sheriff's Office

“How we ended up not with a lot of deputies and police officers shot and killed is just absolutely amazing but for their training,” Judd said at an afternoon news conference.

After a period of silence, deputies in a PCSO helicopter saw the man exit the house with his hands raised. He had been shot once.

“He came out with his hands up; that’s why there was no further gunfire,” Judd told reporters. “It would have been nice if he would have come out with a gun, and then we could have read a newspaper through him and we’d have had a different conversation here this morning. But when someone chooses to give up we take him into custody peacefully. If he had given us the opportunity, we would have shot him up a lot.”

The suspect told officers he was a survivalist and had taken meth, and he said, “You know why I did this.”

MORE COVERAGE: New York Times | The Daily Mail | The Ledger | Tampa Bay Times | News Channel 8 | 10 Tampa Bay | ABC News

The suspect was handcuffed, treated by EMS personnel and then transported to Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center, Judd said.

At the hospital, he tried to grab a Lakeland Police officer’s gun “and they had to fight with him once again in the Lakeland Regional Emergency Room,” Judd said. The suspect was tied down and given a medication that rendered him unable to fight and treatment continued, Judd said.

After he was treated, Riley was taken to the Polk County Jail. Charges filed against Riley include:

  • 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.

Riley was involved in a police call nine hours before the shooting, Judd said. A woman in the house where the shootings would later take place called police to say there was a suspicious person on the property.

He had stopped to talk with somebody who was mowing a lawn — now thought to be victim Justice Gleason. He said, “God sent me here to speak with one of your daughters, Amber.”

Riley was told that there was nobody named Amber there, but Riley told the man mowing the lawn and a woman who had come outside that God told him that Amber was going to commit suicide and he was there to prevent it, Judd said.

Riley was told to leave the property or law enforcement would be called.

Deputies arriving six minutes later could find no sign of the man or his vehicle after searching the area for 22 minutes, Judd said.

Deputies determined later that he left the area and drove home to Brandon, according to Judd.

During the morning news conference, Judd said officials were looking for a 10-year-old girl who was believed to have been in the house, but later in the news conference he said he had received word that the girl was “located alive and well somewhere else.”

Describing conversations between Riley and detectives, Judd said Riley declared, “They begged for their lives and I killed them anyway.” Judd continued: “He’s evil in the flesh. He was a rabid animal. Our hearts and our prayers go out to the family and those who were injured and deceased.”

Officials were confounded by the violence and its seeming randomness. “The big question that all of us has is, ‘Why?’” State Attorney Brian Haas said. “We will not know today or maybe ever.”

Judd closed the morning news conference with a word about guns:

“Understand this: Crazy people with guns are dangerous. Good people with guns keep crazy people with guns at bay, and our deputies and police officers were the good people with guns tonight.”

Video: Deputies escort Riley to jail (via The Ledger)

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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.

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