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A Man Who Claimed God Was Talking To Him Allegedly Killed Four Members Of A Family, Including An Infant

The former Marine, who did not know the family, had been acting erratically in the week before the deadly shooting, authorities said.

Posted on September 5, 2021, at 6:00 p.m. ET

Armored vehicle with "Polk County Sheriff's Office SWAT" on the back parked in a driveway
Polk County Sheriff's Office

An ex-Marine who claimed God was speaking directly to him allegedly shot dead a mother, father, grandmother, and 3-month-old baby boy and seriously wounded an 11-year-old girl, a Florida sheriff said, calling it "a horror of the utmost magnitude."

In a press conference Sunday, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd described the attack as "totally unprovoked mass murder" and said the crime scene was one of the worst things he'd ever seen in his law enforcement career. He identified one of the victims as Justice Gleason, 33, of Lakeland, Florida, but did not provide the names of the women or children due to a state privacy law. The family dog was also killed.

Judd named the suspect as Bryan Riley, 33, of Brandon, Florida, a former Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan before being honorably discharged in March 2011. He was taken into custody after surrendering to authorities Sunday and has not yet been charged.

Riley had no relationship with any of the victims, Judd said, and authorities believe he encountered them for the first time Saturday evening. Deputies were called to what would become the scene of the attack, a family residence in a rural area, around 7:23 p.m. Saturday in response to a report about a suspicious person who was refusing to leave the property.

A man, later identified as Riley, approached Gleason while he was mowing the lawn and demanded to talk to "Amber," who the suspect said was one of Gleason's daughters, Judd said. He told Gleason that he had been sent by God to stop "Amber" from killing herself, the sheriff added. The man refused to leave when Gleason and another person told him that there was nobody named Amber living there, forcing them to call the police. The man was gone by the time officers arrived.

A man sitting by a window and looking at the camera
Facebook

Justice Gleason

Around 4:22 a.m. Sunday, the sheriff's office started receiving calls reporting gunfire. When deputies got to the property, they saw a truck on fire in the front yard and a line of glow sticks stuck into the ground leading up past the residence. A man wearing camouflage with no visible weapons on him was standing outside the house and ran back into it when he saw the deputies arriving, Judd said.

Soon after the man reentered the house, Judd said, officers heard another volley of gunshots, followed by a woman's scream and a baby's whimper. Deputies attempted to open the front door, but it was blocked from the inside. When an officer entered the house from the back door, the man in camouflage was waiting in full body armor and opened fire, Judd said.

The man began shooting at law enforcement from inside the house, injuring three deputies, the sheriff said. After an exchange of fire, the shooting stopped and the man, who had been injured in the firefight, exited the house with his hands raised in surrender. He was taken into custody and transported to a local hospital, telling officers en route that he was a "survivalist" under the influence of methamphetamine. While receiving treatment in an emergency room for his injuries, he attempted to steal an officer's firearm and was forcibly sedated, Judd said.

Polk County Sheriff's Office

When deputies entered the residence, they found a severely injured but still conscious 11-year-old girl who had been struck by "at least seven bullets," Judd said. She was then taken to Tampa General Hospital, where she is in stable condition.

The bodies of Gleason, a female victim, and the 3-month-old baby boy, who had been shot in her arms, were found inside the house. "They were huddling and hiding in fear," Judd said.

While inspecting the area surrounding the home, officers discovered the body of a 62-year-old woman in a neighboring house on the property. Judd identified her as the infant's grandmother, the mother of the other female victim.

The sheriff said Riley had a history of PTSD and had been acting erratically in the week before the shooting. His only criminal record was a minor offense as a teenager, the sheriff said. His LinkedIn page shows that after his military discharge, he worked in private security as a protection specialist.

A serious-looking bald man with a mustache and short beard
Polk County Sheriff's Office

Bryan Riley, pictured in his booking photo

Riley's girlfriend of four years told authorities that he had worked security at an Orlando church a few weeks ago and returned home claiming that God spoke to him and he could now speak directly to God. She described his behavior in the days leading up to the attack. He claimed that God told him to buy supplies and deliver them to victims of Hurricane Ida, including $1,000 worth of cigars.

On Saturday night, he told his girlfriend about his vision that Gleason's "daughter" was about to kill herself, the sheriff said, adding that while she was concerned, she didn't believe that Riley would become violent. She said that when she told him that he wasn't talking to God directly, he told her that there was no room for "doubters" in his life and retreated to another room. She went to bed, and when she awoke Sunday morning to find that he wasn't at home, she checked his phone's location tracking and saw it at the crime scene. She went to police with her information and has been fully cooperative with investigators, Judd said.

Even with apparent mental health issues, Judd said, he believed that Riley was criminally responsible and described him as "evil in the flesh."

"Somebody so heartless, so calculated, that they'll shoot a mother clinging to her 3-month-old baby and shoot the baby and shoot the family dog," Judd said.

When questioned, he said, Riley told deputies that "they begged for their lives and [he] killed them anyway."

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.