LAKELAND, Fla. (WFTS) — What drove a former decorated war veteran to kill four people, he had no connection to, is becoming clearer as the investigation continues.
“This is the most extensive single crime scene that we have worked that I can remember,” said Florida’s Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.
Sheriff Judd said the 33-year-old suspect went to a friend’s house to pick up a first aid kit on Saturday at 6:45 p.m. That friend lives near the home on North Socrum Loop Road where the murders took place.
Authorities said when the suspect left his friend’s house around 7:10 p.m., he saw Justice Gleason mowing his lawn. His 11-year-old daughter was with him.
He told Gleason he was looking for a girl named Amber who was a victim of sex trafficking and was going to commit suicide. Gleason told the suspect there was no one by that name there.
Authorities said Amber is a person the suspect made up.
“He was very angry at Justice because he thought Justice had kept him from seeing this child Amber that was going to commit suicide. That’s when Bryan Riley our suspect, our murder suspect said ‘God told me to kill everyone,’” said Judd.
Investigators said Sunday around 1 a.m., the suspect returned to the victim’s home in North Lakeland to do what he called “reconnaissance.”
“He searched through and spent time at the house to locate three entrance points into the homes. He planned out his diversions and he prepared his exit strategy,” Judd said.
Hours later around and 4:22 a.m., he shot through the windows entering the home of the 62-year-old woman, shooting and killing her.
He then shot out the back door into the main house. He killed Gleason, his 33-year-old girlfriend and their 3-month-old son who were hiding in the bathroom. Then he took the 11-year-old victim from the bathroom to the living room.
“And that’s when he called me Amber, and I told him I’m not Amber. And he said 3, 2, 1 and he shot me,” Judd said the victim told detectives.
The suspect asked her again, and when she said she still didn’t know who Amber was, he shot her some more.
Judd said Riley told detectives, “When she wouldn’t tell me where Amber was, I eliminated her.”
The 11-year-old victim told detectives that she played dead and that’s likely how she survived.
“This 11-year-old was very brave and very smart. And she out-thought him, thank God,” said Judd.
A shoot-out with law enforcement happened shortly after. The suspect who was wearing a bulletproof vest was shot through the stomach, before surrendering.
Authorities said the suspect shot inside the home more than 100 times. Law enforcement returned fire with 59 shots.
The 11-year-old victim has undergone multiple surgeries and is expected to recover.
“The entire family with the exception of this child is wiped out and there are funeral bills, and doctor’s bills and all kinds of collateral issues that have to be dealt with,” Judd said.
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office has set up a fund for the victim’s family, and 100% of the donations made through Polk Sheriff’s Charities will go to the family.
This story was originally published September 9 , 2021, by WFTS in Tampa Bay, an E.W. Scripps Company.