The gunman, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and appeared to have no connection to his victims, also shot and wounded an 11-year-old girl and killed the family dog.
A ONE TIME Marine sharpshooter shot and killed four people, including a 3-month-old, at two homes near Lakeland, Florida, on Sunday morning, opening fire on responding deputies before being taken into custody, authorities said.
The gunman, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and appeared to have no connection to his victims, also shot and wounded an 11-year-old girl and killed the family dog, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said during a news conference. He surrendered after being struck once in a gunfight with deputies that involved “at least dozens, if not hundreds, of rounds,” the sheriff said.
When the gunfire was over, authorities found the wounded 11-year-old, who “looked our deputies in the eye and said, ‘There’s three more dead people in the house,’ ” Judd recalled. The three – a 40-year-old man, a 33-year-old woman and an infant boy she held in her arms – were inside a house. A fourth victim, a 62-year-old woman who was the grandmother of the baby, was found in an apartment on the property.
Bryan Riley, 33, of Brandon, Fla., described by the sheriff as “ready for battle” in camouflage and body armour, was taken to a hospital after exiting the house with his arms raised. While being treated, he tried to grab an officer’s gun and had to be restrained and medicated, Judd said. He was taken into custody after the hospital released him. Officials said charges were pending.
“He says at one point to our deputies, ‘They begged for their lives, and I killed them anyway,’ ” Judd said. “He’s evil in the flesh. He was a rabid animal.”
It was not immediately clear to investigators what led to the shooting, which began shortly before 4:30 am Judd said Riley, who deployed to Afghanistan in 2008 and Iraq in 2009 and 2010, had been experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. His stunned girlfriend of four years, Judd said, has been “totally cooperative” with investigators, telling them he had been erratic recently but never violent.
She said Riley, who worked as a bodyguard and did not have a criminal record, had been delusional, saying he was in direct communication with God. On Saturday night, Judd said, Riley appeared in the victims’ neighbourhood, telling residents that God had given him a vision that someone was going to kill herself. Unnerved, the neighbours told him that they were going to call the police.
Police arrived within six minutes, Judd said, but Riley was gone.
Nine hours later, a lieutenant in the area heard gunshots. Authorities arrived to find a truck on fire, a line of glow sticks leading to the house and Riley, wearing camouflage, out front. After seeing them, he went inside the house. There was more gunfire, Judd said, and deputies “could hear a woman screaming and a baby whimpering.” They tried to enter, but the front door was barricaded.
Around the back, they encountered Riley, now wearing a bulletproof vest, knee protection and head protection. He shot at deputies, who fired back. He retreated inside the house and, as a helicopter flew overhead, surrendered.
“This guy, prior to this morning, was a war hero,” Judd said. “He fought for his country in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was a decorated military veteran. And this morning, he is a cold calculated murderer.”
Judd said Riley told police that he had been taking methamphetamine.
After the shooting stopped, the deputies feared there could be booby traps. But one of them ran inside to get the 11-year-old girl, who was rushed to Tampa General Hospital. She had at least seven gunshot wounds and required surgery, Judd said, but is expected to recover.
The sheriff’s office identified only one of the victims, 40-year-old Justice Gleason.
Investigators spent hours processing the scene, finding Riley’s truck stocked with materials for a gunfight, including kits to control bleeding. Authorities said they were struggling to understand what prompted such violence.
“The big question that all of us have is why – you know, that’s the thing that’s been on my mind the whole day,” said State Attorney Brian Haas. “We will not know the why today, maybe ever.”