Ex-US Marine who claimed God was speaking directly to him shot dead four people including 3-month-old baby

·4 min read
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd briefs reporters on the quadruple homicide near Lakeland, Florida.  (Polk County Sheriff’s Office)
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd briefs reporters on the quadruple homicide near Lakeland, Florida. (Polk County Sheriff’s Office)

A former US marine allegedly shot four people, claiming God was speaking directly to him - including a mother, her 3-month-old infant, grandmother in Florida on Sunday, officials said.

The 33-year-old man also severely injured an 11-year-old and killed the family dog in the same attack in Florida’s Lakeland, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said.

Bryan Riley, the suspect, had served in Iraq and Afghanistan as an ex-marine before leaving the service in March 2011, according to a report by Buzzfeed News.

According to police officials, Riley had no prior relationship with any of the victims and met them for the first time that weekend. Claiming to carry God’s message, Riley pulled up in the rural neighbourhood on Saturday evening around 7:23 pm and said he wanted to speak to ‘Amber’, alleging she was the daughter of one of the victims Justice Gleason. He told Mr Gleason, who was mowing his lawn, that he had been sent by God to ‘stop Amber from killing herself’ and refused to leave the spot, the police said. Gleason told Riley that nobody named Amber lived in the area.

Gleason and another person, asked Bryan Riley to leave and called the police but by the time they got there, he had left.

He returned 10 hours later, around 4 in the morning. The sheriff’s office then received calls about a shooting in the neighbourhood at the same location. When the police arrived, the path leading up to the victim’s house was lit up with glowstick and a truck outside the house had been set alight. Riley, dressed in camouflage, was waiting outside but then ran inside the house when he saw the police.

Shortly after, the police officers heard gunshots, a woman’s scream and a baby’s cry, police told Buzzfeed. Finding the front door locked from the inside, police rushed into the house through the back entrance. The former marine was waiting inside in full body armour and opened fire at the police officials, injuring three of them.

A gunfight between Riley and police deputies ensued - where dozens “if not hundreds of rounds” were exchanged, Sheriff Judd told Associated Press, after which the injured suspect surrendered. When officials went inside the house, they found the three victims including the mother, her infant boy still clinging to his mother and Justice Gleason. They also found the body of the infant’s 62-year-old grandmother in a neighbouring house.

The police also found an 11-year-old girl with several bullet wounds, but conscious. The girl — the only survivor from the attack — is now stable, the report added.

Riley admitted to the crime during the interrogation and said, “they (victims) begged for their lives and (he) killed them anyway.”

Riley has been taken into custody but has not yet been charged for the attack, officials said. Riley reportedly told the police that he was on methamphetamine and is a “survivalist”. He also tried to overpower an officer and steal a firearm, forcing the authorities to sedate him to gain control, Sheriff Judd said.

Calling the crime “a horror of the utmost magnitude”, Sheriff Judd said in a press conference that it was a “totally unprovoked mass murder and the crime scene was one of the worst things he’d seen in his career, the report added.

Sheriff Judd described Riley as “evil in the flesh” and said he was criminally responsible for the attack.

“Somebody so heartless, so calculated, that they’ll shoot a mother clinging to her 3-month-old baby and shoot the baby and shoot the family dog,” Judd said.

According to the police, Riley had mental health issues and had a history of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This was confirmed by Riley’s girlfriend who said he had shown erratic behaviour in the days leading up to the attack.

He had told her that God was speaking directly to him and as a result, he was asked by God to buy supplies for victims of Hurricane Ida. Riley purchased supplies and cigars worth $1,000 for the survivors of Ida, his girlfriend reportedly told the police.

She said Riley had told her about his vision to save ‘Amber’ from killing herself. When she woke up on Sunday morning and did not find Riley in the house, she tracked him down to the location of crime scene. Riley’s partner has been cooperative with the police officials, the Sheriff said.

If you are experiencing feelings of distress and isolation, or are struggling to cope, The Samaritans offers support; you can speak to someone for free over the phone, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email jo@samaritans.org, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.

If you are based in the USA, and you or someone you know needs mental health assistance right now, call National Suicide Prevention Helpline on 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The Helpline is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

If you are in another country, you can go to www.befrienders.org to find a helpline near you.