A 33-year-old former Marine sharpshooter was arrested in Polk County Florida after killing four people, including a mother and her 3-month-old baby she was cradling. An 11-year-old girl was shot multiple times but is expected to survive.
Bryan Riley engaged in a shootout with deputies, but eventually surrendered and was taken into custody. Riley was wounded, and while being treated at the hospital tried to take an officer’s handgun while on the hospital gurney, but was then medically subdued.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said Riley was wearing body armor and was armed with multiple guns. Riley told police he had used methamphetamine and described himself as a survivalist.
One of the victims was 40-year-old Justice Gleason.
Gleason was the only victim who was named because Marsy’s law bans the release without family permission. The ages of the other victims were given as a 33-year-old woman, a 3-month-old infant who died in her arms, and a 62-year-old mother and grandmother of two victims.
Nine hours before the killings Riley went to the same house in Lakeland and told a man and woman outside that “God sent me here to speak to one of your daughters.” Judd said Riley was told that the woman he was looking for didn’t live there. Judd said Riley told his girlfriend God had spoken to him and said he had to save a woman named Amber, who was going to kill herself. A second unidentified person warned Riley they would call the police if he didn’t leave.
At approximately 4:30 a.m. on Sunday, Riley returned to the same home and laid out glowsticks in a path leading officers to an ambush in the house. A nearby officer heard gunshots and all local and state law enforcement responded to the scene to find Riley’s truck on fire and Riley standing outside unarmed. Riley immediately ran into the house and officers heard more gunshots, a woman’s scream and a baby’s whimper. Riley was confronted at the back door and had put on full body armor to meet hundreds of shots from officers, and he retreated back into the home. Riley began shooting at law enforcement in the front of the home, and eventually a helicopter spotted him coming out the back of the home with arms up in surrender.
“If he’s not evil enough, he shot and killed the family dog. And if the ironies aren’t horrible enough, this is one more bit of horrible irony,” Judd said. “The dog’s name was Diogi. And the dog was named after one of our K-9s who was shot and killed in the line of duty along with the K-9 handler.”
“As he’s interviewing with us, he’s trying to convince us that he’s mentally ill. He’s very in tune with his statements and admissions. But he says at one point to our detectives, ‘They begged for their lives and I killed them anyway,'” Judd said.
According to his LinkedIn profile, Riley served in the United States Marine Corps from January 2007 to March 2011 and was honorably discharged. He served in the Reserves, and was a guard team supervisor for Academi, a private military contractor originally founded by retired Navy SEAL Erik Prince as Blackwater, from 2013 to 2014. From there he was an executive protection agent for ESS Global Corp from August 2017 to February 2019, where he said he, “Provided close protection for clients in various countries.” He listed his most recent employer as Griffin Defense, where he said he has been a protection specialist since August 2017. He wrote that he, “Performed close protection in areas such as Mexico, Nigeria, Paris, and Peru.”
Riley’s fiancee is cooperating with the investigation, who told Sheriff Judd she was shocked and didn’t know about any drug use. She said that he had PTSD but had never been violent, and that she didn’t see this coming or that she would have done something about it.
She said he’d spent the previous week on what he called a mission from God, stockpiling supplies that he said were for Hurricane Ida victims, including $1,000 worth of cigars.
According to Judd, Riley said, “You don’t need to call the cops, because I’m the cops for God.” He talked to his girlfriend and she said she told him that he wasn’t talking to God directly. She said he got mad and said there’s “no room for doubters in my life, God gave me a gift and I’m talking directly with God.” She said they’d never argued like that before. He never threatened anybody. She said he “went to his mancave and she went to bed.”
At a press conference, Sheriff Judd said, “Just because you have mental health problems doesn’t mean you are not criminally liable. He is criminally liable. He played word games with us during the interviews to try to set a defense. That doesn’t work. But 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. He was a decorated military veteran. And this morning he’s a cold, calculated murderer. This nation doesn’t do enough for those that are mentally ill. There are millions that have mental health episodes that don’t do this. So because people have trouble with mental illness doesn’t mean they’re going to be a mass murderer. This was a mass shooting.”
“It would have been nice if he had come out with a gun and then we’d been able to read a newspaper through him and we’d have a different conversation here this morning,” Judd told reporters. “But when someone chooses to give up, we take them into custody peacefully. If he’d given us the opportunity we’d have shot him up a lot. But he didn’t, because he was a coward. You see, it’s easy to shoot innocent children and babies and people in the middle of the night when you’ve got the gun and they don’t. But he was not much of a man.”
“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 early this morning.”
“I’ve done this job my entire adult life. And I’ve seen a lot of tragedy and a lot of sadness. And there are things you can’t unsee. I will never be able to unsee that mother with that deceased infant in her arms as they both lay there dead. It is a horror of the utmost magnitude. I have seen other horrible events before. This ranks in the top 10, top 5. Maybe top 3. It’s sad when anyone dies at the hands of a murderer. This man is evil in the flesh. It was total unprovoked mass murder and there’s not enough adjectives or descriptives to point out how mad I am at him or how sad I am for the family and anything I said would certainly, anything appropriate to say is not fit for television or social media and I’ve said some pretty outlandish things before. To keep from going down the path about how I really feel, I should say nothing.”