Bryan Riley is a Florida man and former Marine sharpshooter accused of fatally shooting a baby and three other people in a “mass murder” at a Polk County home before surrendering to police. An 11-year-old girl was shot multiple times but is expected to survive. Authorities believe Riley did not know the victims. He was wounded during a shootout with deputies and was treated at a hospital before being booked into jail.
Police responded to the home about 4:30 a.m. on Sunday, September 5, 2021, Polk County authorities said at a press conference. No deputies or police officers were injured in two shootouts that occurred between Riley and responding law enforcement, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said. Riley, who was wearing body armor and other protective equipment and had multiple guns, told police he had used methamphetamine.
One of the victims has been identified as 40-year-old Justice Gleason. The other victims have not been identified, because Florida’s Marsy’s Law requires the permission of the victim’s family to release names. Police said one victim was a 33-year-old woman, who was shot killed while holding a 3-month-old infant in her arms. The infant was also fatally shot. A 62-year-old woman, who was the mother and grandmother of two of the other victims, was the fourth victim.
Police said Riley also killed the victims’ family dog, who was named Diogi, after a Polk County Sheriff’s Office K-9 that was shot and killed along with Deputy Sheriff Matt Williams during a 2006 pursuit, Judd said. The 11-year-old girl, a student at Lake Gibson Middle School, had seven bullet wounds and underwent surgery at a Tampa hospital. Judd said, “She is certainly expected to recover and we thank God for that.”
The 33-year-old Riley, a self-described survivalist, told deputies, “you know why I did this,” after he was taken into custody, Judd said at the press conference. Judd said nine hours before the killings, Riley went to the same house near Lakeland, Florida, 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.
“He was a Marine. He did four years of service and was honorably discharged and did another three years as a reserve. He was deployed to Iraq in 2008, Afghanistan during 2009-2010, and he during that period of time was designated as a sharpshooter,” Judd said about Riley, who lives in Brandon, Florida, about 35 miles away from the scene of the shootings. Riley is employed as a security contractor, Judd said. He had a concealed weapons license, Judd said.
“We located his girlfriend, who was absolutely totally cooperative and she said she had been dating him approximately four years. She said he had PTSD,” Judd said. Riley’s girlfriend told investigators she had seen him depressed, but never violent. “She said but a week ago today, last Sunday, he did security at a church in Orlando. And he came home and he said God spoke to him and now he could speak directly to God. And she said I’d never seen that type of behavior. But once again he wasn’t violent,” Judd said. The sheriff added, “Virtually no criminal history. When he was a teenager he had a small charge and then almost nothing. We’re not dealing with a traditional criminal here. But what we’re dealing with is someone who obviously had mental health issues, at least this last week, had PTSD and whether or not we follow that back to the military, we don’t know.”
Police are still investigating. Riley is being held without bail at the Polk County jail on charges of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer, shooting into a building, armed burglary with assault and battery, second-degree arson and attempted first-degree murder with a weapon. It was not immediately clear if he has hired an attorney who could speak on his behalf.
Here’s what you need to know about Bryan Riley and the quadruple homicide in Polk County, Florida:
1. Bryan Riley Told a Man at the Home Where the Shootings Occurred, ‘God Sent Me Here’ Because His Daughter Was Going to ‘Commit Suicide,’ but He Left Before Deputies Arrived to Investigate
Judd said the sheriff’s office received a call about 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, September 4, 2021, about a “suspicious vehicle” or person on North Socrum Loop Road in the unincorporated county area north of the city of Lakeland.
“We had a deputy respond who talked to the lady who said that she noticed this suspicious vehicle parked beside North Socrum Loop Road and a strange person in it who said, ‘God sent me here to speak to one of your daughters.’ Upon arrival, which was only six minutes, the vehicle was not here, the suspect was not here. We spent the next 20-plus minutes scouring the area.”
Judd said at this point of the investigation, “We find zero connection between our shooter, our murderer and our victims. He lives in Brandon.” He said the area where shooting occurred is a “mix of rural and suburban. A nice community, wonderful people.”
Riley asked a man who was mowing his lawn, who police believe to be Gleason, the man killed several hours later, to speak to his daughter, Amber, but the man told him, “Nope, there’s no one here by the name of Amber,” Judd said. He said the suspect told the witnesses, “I’m here to talk to Amber. God sent me here because she’s going to commit suicide.” But the witnesses said they confirmed there was no Amber in the home and told the suspect to leave and called police.
Judd said deputies responded and searched the area for the vehicle for about 22 minutes, but could not locate it. “Of course, it’s Saturday night, it’s a busy evening, and we did not find the vehicle at all,” Judd said.
2. Riley, Whose Truck Was Found on Fire Outside of the Home Along With a Path of Glowsticks, Exchanged Gunfire With Police Inside & Outside of the Home Before Surrendering, the Sheriff Said, Adding the Gunman Was ‘Ready for Battle’
About 9 hours after the first incident at the Polk County home, about 4:30 a.m., a lieutenant was about two miles away at the intersection of Highway 98 North and Duff Road on another call and heard “two volleys of automatic gunfire” in the direction of the shooting scene, Judd said. According to the sheriff, the deputy was west of the scene, about two miles away.
“As you can well expect, early in the morning when it’s very quiet, sound travels. He immediately notified his deputies to respond to the area and within the same few seconds we began getting 911 calls of an active shooter,” Judd said. “We have an active shooter protocol. Everyone responds. The nearest municipality was the city of Lakeland. The Lakeland Police Department who are our colleagues and friends and our partners they immediately sent all of their resources as well as all the resources that we had in the surrounding districts.”
Judd said when they “tactically approached” the area the responding deputies and officers saw a “truck on fire” and heard a “popping noise in the front yard.” He said the “deputies also noticed these breakable lights that were lining the path from the road up to the house.” He later described the lights as glow sticks.
Judd said as they approached the house the deputies saw “an individual totally outfitted in body armor. And looked as if he was ready to engage us all in an active shooter situation. But we didn’t see a firearm. Now understand, we’re way out in the country area, so it’s not unusual to see people in camo. But he was garbed up and it appeared as if he had bulletproof vest on. And he immediately ran back into this house. We didn’t know who he was and we didn’t see a gun.”
Judd added, “At that moment in time, we heard another volley and a woman scream and a baby whimper.”
Pasco County Lieutenant Duane Thompkins tried to enter the house through the front door, but it was barricaded, Judd said. He went around back and entered the house and encountered the gunman and they exchanged fire before Thompkins backed out of the house. Judd said they believe Thompkins shot Riley during that gun battle. Riley then began shooting at deputies in front of the house, Judd said.
“Responding units then directed gunfire to get three deputies out of the way that were pinned down by gunfire through the front of the residence. At that moment in time, everything went silent. Air support was up. Our helicopter saw a suspect coming out with his hands raised. And we took him into custody. He was shot one time. We handcuffed him,” Judd said. Riley was then taken to Lakeland Regional Hospital, Judd said. Riley was wearing a bulletproof vest, camo, knee protection and head protection, Judd said.
At the home, deputies then called for anyone inside to come out and heard the 11-year-old girl calling for help. She was found with multiple gunshot wounds and airlifted to a hospital in Tampa, Judd said.
“We feared that there was going to be booby traps there because of what we saw. We looked into what we now believe to be the suspect’s truck,” Judd said. He had everything down to blood-stop kits, first-aid kits and he was ready for battle. Now he’s in custody, we’ve gotten the 11-year-old, she looks our deputies in the eyes and said, ‘There’s 3 more dead people in the house.’ We made entry, first with our robots to make sure there were no explosive devices. And in the house, the main house, we discovered a man, a woman and an infant in the mother’s arms all shot to death. We went to the house directly behind and found another lady shot to death.”
Judd added, “This man killed four people this morning, tried to kill our deputies and then gave up. When he came out the house the first time we didn’t see a gun, he shot at us from inside the house, when he exited the house a second time he had his hands up in the air and he gave up.”
Judd said the suspect told deputies, “You know why I did this,” and told them there were three people in the house. According to Judd, the suspect was driving a vehicle with a U.S. Marine Corps Florida license plate and he described himself as a “survivalist.” He also told deputies that he was “taking meth,” Judd said.
He said there were, “at least dozens if not hundreds of rounds fired this morning between our suspect and our deputies who were directing fire back at him to try to stop him from shooting at us. It was a tough situation. And it entailed at least two shootouts in close order with the suspect. As I’m told, he will be treated and released from the hospital and obviously he’ll be booked into the jail. Our detectives and crime scene are working on the charges as you can well expect what they are.”
“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.”
Judd said, “We don’t know the answer … and we may never know, how did he end up at that house? And he lived in Brandon, and then he was able to find himself a way back to that same house nine hours later. His girlfriend said he made zero statements about being violent or dangerous to those people at that residence. It simply appears at the early stage … He just happened to be the unlucky one mowing the yard and that’s where Bryan stopped.”
3. Riley Served in the Marines From 2007 to 2011, Was a Guard Team Supervisor for the Private Contractor Academi for a Year & Worked in Protective Services in Multiple Countries
Riley served in the United States Marine Corps from January 2007 to March 2011, according to his LinkedIn profile. He was in the 1st Battalion 6th Marines and the 1st Battalion 9th Marines, and was stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina at one point. He was deployed to Ramadi in Iraq in 2008 and Marjah in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2010, according to his LinkedIn.
After he was honorably discharged from the Marines he spent time in the Reserves, and was also a guard team supervisor for Academi, a private military contractor originally founded by retired Navy SEAL Erik Prince as Blackwater, from 2013 to 2014, he said on LinkedIn. He then worked as 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.”
Riley’s most recent employer is listed on his LinkedIn 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, who used a pseudonym on his Facebook profile, shared a fundraiser for “Stop Soldier Suicide” in March 2021. His Facebook page shows him while in the Marines and while working private security around the world. Riley’s girlfriend posted photos showing he proposed in July 2021 and they were engaged. Her profile also shows him with her young children.
Riley’s girlfriend told investigators that last week he told her, “God told him to go to the hurricane relief and to take supplies, so all through the week he was buying supplies so that he could make a trip to provide hurricane relief from Hurricane Ida. She said he came home on one day, he was becoming more erratic. He wasn’t sleeping at night. And he bought $1,000 worth of cigars to take as a relief present. And he said that God said he should do that,” Judd said.
Riley’s girlfriend told police he returned to Brandon after the encounter Saturday night. “So he came home Saturday evening, and said he saw a man on a lawnmower and God gave him this vision that his daughter Amber was going to commit suicide. So he told this man that I need to talk to your daughter Amber because she’s going to commit suicide. God told me,” Judd said. “And the guy said there’s no one here by the name Amber. But he was insistent, the guy told him to leave. But he was insistent. The guy we believe is victim 1, we’re not absolutely 100% confirmed, we believe, our victim 1, Justice, he goes and gets another witness, which is one of our victims, she comes to talk to him and they said, ‘Look, buddy, there’s no Amber here.'”
Judd added that while at the scene, 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.”
Riley’s girlfriend, who he has been dating for about four years, is cooperating with the investigation, Judd said. Judd said she was “shocked” and didn’t know about any drug use. Judd said that information is based on his statements. They are going to be searching his residence. Judd added, “She is as mortified and shocked as I believe all of us are. She said she didn’t see this coming or obviously she would have done something about it.”
4. Riley, Who Told Detectives the Victims ‘Begged for Their Lives & I Killed Them Anyway,’ Tried to Take a Gun From an Officer at the Hospital After the Shooting
Riley tried to take a gun from a Lakeland Police officer while at the hospital, Judd said at a press conference. “While being treated, he jumped up and tried to grab a Lakeland Police officer’s gun and they had to fight with him again in the emergency room,” Judd said. “Once again we got him tied down, they gave him medication to render him unable to fight any longer and they continued to treat him.”
Judd said, “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.’ He’s evil in the flesh. He was a rabid animal. Our hearts and our prayers go out to the family of those who are injured and deceased. It’s just a blessing from the good Lord that during the shootout and the subsequent volleys from the shootouts that my deputies and our colleague from the Lakeland Police Department weren’t shot and killed as well. ”
Judd said it will take hours and hours and days for the crime scene investigation to be completed. He said they have located two or three firearms and different calibers of shell casings from ammunition inside the home. He said they think some of the victims were killed before police arrived, but they do not know exactly when the situation began. The gunshots were heard by a deputy about 4:23 a.m.
Judd said, “He’s trying to play games, word games, with the detectives. Which is a clear indicator he knew exactly what he was going. … We just know we had a madman with a lot of guns that shot and killed innocent people. … When you see somebody so heartless, so calculated that they will shoot a mother clinging to her 3-month-old baby and kill the baby and shoot the family dog…”
Judd told reporters at a press conference:
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. this was an active shooter event. But my goodness. As horrible as it is, we see mass shooters at theaters and at churches and at schools and at businesses. But who would ever thing that in a community with a 49-year crime low that you would have a mass shooter at 4:30 on a Sunday morning in a quiet, safe neighborhood. And it’s evident when you look at his lack of criminal history. When we’re dealing with these active shooters, these active assailants, these are not traditional criminals. This guy was a mass murderer.
Judd said there are no known communications that tied this conduct to our last couple of weeks in Afghanistan, referencing the military’s withdrawal from the country and the death of 13 service members, including Marines. “But what we do know, is we have a guy that 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.
5. Judd Said He Wishes Riley Hadn’t Surrendered & Had Come Out With a Gun So Deputies Could Have ‘Shot Him Up a Lot’ to the Point Where They Could ‘Read a Newspaper Through Him,’ Calling Riley a ‘Coward’
Judd said no shots were fired after Riley came out of the house with his hands up.
“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.”
Judd added, “This is God’s country up in here. Our crime rate in this county is at a 49-year low. Crime’s never been as low. You’ve never been as safe as you are right now. But when you get a nutjob like this, statistical data makes no difference. This guy was wired up on dope, on meth. … He came here for a gun battle. We don’t know why. We’re going to find out.”
“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,” Judd said. He told reporters:
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.
Judd said his deputies and their other law enforcement partners in the county train for responding to active shooter situations and those protocols were used during the incident. “Who in the world would ever expect to have an active shooter in a neighborhood at 4:30 on a Sunday morning?”
Lakeland Police Assistant Police Chief Sam Taylor, speaking on behalf of the department because Lakeland Police Chief Ruben Garcia was at home quarantining with COVID-19, “The scene out there is absolutely horrific. And it would have been more horrific if we’d have had deputies or police officers injured. And by the grace of God, I don’t know how they weren’t. The deputy, the lieutenant engaged in a firefight in the doorway, right in the back door. He chose to make a heroic entry into that house. And then we have other deputies who were willing to run toward the gunfire.”
State’s Attorney Brian Haas said at a press conference Sunday morning, “This is a horrific incident. Our community and many families are hurting this morning. We are committed to working closely with law enforcement to get to the bottom of this. I know there are a lot of questions. More questions than answers at this point. But the bottom line is we’re all going to work together, we’re going to provide support to the families of these victims. We want answers, certainly, but we’re going to get justice for the victims and for our community. … There are a lot of things we just don’t know at this point.”
Haas said at a later press conference that afternoon, “The big question that all of us have is why? And unfortunately and so frustrating that we will not know the why today, maybe ever. But we do know that a lot of folks have been terribly impacted. Our community has been a victim of this terrible tragedy. It is incredible, given what I saw at the scene, that no law enforcement officers were injured or killed. … It’s incredible that we don’t have more victims based on the weapons and what we saw at the scene.”