Four people are dead, including a mother who is still cradling her baby after a massive shootout with a former Marine.
A Florida sheriff said the man was “ready to fight” and so aggressive that he tried to snatch a gun from his hospital stretcher after his arrest.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said 33-year-old Bryan Riley appeared to be suffering from mental health problems and had been slowly resolving for weeks, repeatedly telling his girlfriend that he could communicate directly with God.
Judd said authorities found an 11-year-old girl who was shot multiple times and three dead victims after a shootout with police and MPs – in which dozens of “if not hundreds of shots” were exchanged outside a house in Lakeland. These included a 33-year-old mother who was still holding her dead body, a three-month-old boy, the infant’s grandmother, and a 62-year-old who lived in a neighboring house.
Riley, who served as a sniper in both Iraq and Afghanistan, appeared to have targeted the family at random, Judd said during a press conference on Sunday.
Preliminary evidence shows that 40-year-old Justice Gleason happened to be an unhappy stranger who was mowing his lawn on Saturday night when Riley drove by, saying that God told him to stop because Gleason’s daughter was about to commit suicide.
A second, unidentified victim came to confront Riley, told him the story wasn’t true and warned that if he didn’t leave, they would call the police, Judd said. Authorities responded to the scene but never found Riley.
About nine hours later, around 4:30 am, Riley returned to the house and laid out glow sticks to create a path to the house to “ambush” officers, Judd said.
Coincidentally, a lieutenant overheard popping noises far in the distance and immediately switched the agency to active shooter mode to take all state and local law enforcement agencies in the area to the crime scene.
Following the sounds of gunfire, authorities arrived home to find Riley’s white truck on fire and an unarmed Riley outside in camouflage.
Riley immediately ran inside, where authorities heard another gunshot, “a woman screaming and a baby whimpering,” Judd said.
Officials tried to break into the front building, but it was barricaded. As they circled backwards, they met Riley, who wore full body armor including head and knee covers and a bulletproof vest.
Authorities exchanged heavy shots before Riley retired into the house, according to the sheriff.
Everything fell silent, Judd said, until a helicopter squad alerted authorities that Riley was coming out. He had been shot once and was ready to surrender.
Meanwhile, officials in the house heard cries for help, but were unsure if there were other riflemen and feared the house had been booby-trapped. A brave sergeant rushed in and grabbed an 11-year-old girl who had been shot at least seven times.
She told MPs there were three dead inside, Judd said, adding that she was put into surgery and was expected to survive.
MPs sent robots inside to look for explosives and other traps. Once it became clear, they found the unidentified mother and baby, Gleason and the family dog, all dead from gunshot wounds. The baby’s grandmother was also found dead in a house in the background. Authorities did not say whether or how Gleason was related to the other people in the house.
“They begged for their lives and I killed them anyway,” Judd said, Riley told them during an interrogation, adding that Riley was playing mind games during interviews with detectives.
Authorities did not want to say how often the victims were shot or where they were in the house, but said they all hid and crouched in fear.
Authorities said Riley’s four-year-old friend, who he also lived with, was cooperative and shocked.
She said he had spent the past week on a mission from God stocking supplies for Hurricane Ida victims, including $ 1,000 worth of cigars.
“Before this morning, this guy was a war hero. He fought for his country in Afghanistan and Iraq, ”said Judd. “And this morning he’s a cold-blooded killer.”
Riley, who had no criminal record, also told authorities that he was taking methamphetamines. Authorities said his vehicle was stocked with supplies for a shootout, including kits to stop bleeding.
While receiving treatment at the hospital, Riley jumped up and tried to grab an officer’s gun. “They had to fight him again in the emergency room,” Grady said before he was finally handcuffed and medicated.
He is expected to recover and be sent to jail to face charges.
“The big question we all have is ‘why?'” Said District Attorney Brian Haas. “We will know today or maybe never.”
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