Bryan Riley, 33, has confessed to killing four people and seriously injuring a 11-year-old girl during a shooting on Sunday. Photo courtesy of Polk County Sheriff's Office/Twitter
Sept. 9 (UPI) -- A Marine veteran accused of brutally killing a family of four and shooting an 11-year-old multiple times last weekend said he did it in search of a girl who God told him was the victim of sex trafficking and was about to commit suicide, authorities said.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd told reporters Thursday during a press conference that Bryan Riley, 33, confessed that God had told him to kill everyone at the Lakeland, Fla., residence early Sunday, as they were involved in sex trafficking and were denying him access to a girl named Amber whom he was to rescue.
"It was all a figment of his imagination," Judd said.
Early Sunday, authorities were called to the residence where deputies engaged the suspect dressed in a bullet vest in a firefight, striking him in the stomach, after which he surrendered to the police.
Inside the house, authorities found 40-year-old Justice Gleason shot dead. His 33-year-old wife was found holding their 3-month-old son, both also shot dead. An 11-year-old girl, Gleason's daughter, was found alive but suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. In a second residence on the property, police also found the children's 62-year-old grandmother, also shot dead. And the family dog was killed after being shot twice, authorities said.
"He's evil," Judd said.
Following the shooting, Judd told reporters that there was no connection between the victims and the suspect, who had to drive 30 miles from his Brandon residence to the Lakeland home.
On Thursday, Judd said that hasn't changed, but the investigation has uncovered a witness who lives in the area who told the authorities that he knows Riley. He told investigators that Riley had said he was planning to participate in Hurricane Ida relief efforts. The witness had offered to prepare him a first aid kit, which Riley picked up from the witness' residence at 7:10 p.m. Saturday.
Between that time and 7:22 p.m. when police were called about a suspicious person out front of the Lakeland home, Riley had stopped at the residence where Gleason was mowing his lawn with his 11-year-old daughter present and told him, "God said I need to talk to Amber because she's going to commit suicide," Judd quoted Riley as having said.
Gleason told Riley there was no one there by the name of Amber, Judd said, adding that the grandmother then joined them and told Riley the same thing, and threatened if he didn't leave they would call the police.
"When our suspect Riley left he was very angry and he was very angry at Justice because he thought Justice had kept him from seeing this child that was going to commit suicide," he said. "And that's when Bryan Riley, our suspect, our murder suspect, said, God told me to kill everyone and to rescue Amber because she was a victim of sex trafficking."
Riley in his confession told the authorities that he went home after the confrontation with Justice to put "an ops plan together."
Judd said they have found video of Riley leaving his residence at 1 a.m. Sunday carrying a large shoulder bag. Riley told investigators that he returned to the Lakeland home "to do reconnaissance outside of the house in the moonlight."
"That was the begging of his execution plan," Judd said.
After inspecting the house and positioning his truck for a rapid exit, he slashed the tires of two cars and set up glow sticks through the property so he could find his way out if needed and if Amber saw them she could escape.
"This is all fiction," Judd said. "This is all made up by him. Understand and I underscore when we make those references there was no victims of sex crime in that house."
He went to the residence at the back of the property where he killed the grandmother in the process of "clearing" it in his search for Amber, Judd said, adding that Riley then shot his way through the back glass door of the main residence before shooting the dog in the bedroom and then Gleason, his wife and their infant who were hiding in the bathroom.
Riley then grabbed the 11-year-old and dragged her to the living room where he interrogated her about Amber's location.
"I want to know where Amber is," Judd quoted Riley as having said. "And then he counted down: three, two, one --- pow."
He shot her in the thigh and stomach before asking again where Amber was and then shot her again.
"Then this evil human being told us, 'I tortured her in order to investigate and in order to find Amber'," he said, adding that the girl survived by playing dead and praying.
The girl suffered at least seven bullet wounds and had to undergo four surgeries at Tampa General Hospital where she still resides in the intensive care unit.
"This 11-year-old was very brave and very smart and she out-thought him, thank God," Judd said.
Police then arrived and engaged him in a shootout during which he was shot and surrendered to police.
Judd called him "an absolute coward."
"He looks like a man, but he's not a man," he said. "He's a sniveling coward."
Six law enforcement fired their service weapons some 59 times during the firefight while Riley is accused of discharging more than 100 shots during the entire crime. Three firearms were retrieved from the scene.
Judd said it is the most extensive crime scene he can remember working.
On the way to the hospital, Riley confessed to the crimes and said he was on methamphetamine. The sheriff said they could not corroborate that yet but said they have found evidence of illegal steroid use.
"He thought he left her for dead," Judd said referring to the 11-year-old, "but she was way smarter than he was and God truly was with that little girl that evening."
Riley has shown "zero" remorse since, Judd said.
The sheriff's office said they are collecting donations for the victims' families and the 11-year-old survivor.
"My editorial comment is I know my God, and my God is pissed," he said.