2:11 PM PDT, September 8, 2021
An 11-year-old girl, the lone survivor of a shooting in Florida that killed four innocent people, including her father and a 3-month-old baby, told authorities she “played dead and prayed,” according to a published report.
The young girl, whose identity was not revealed, was shot multiple times during the massacre, which took the life of her father, 40-year-old Justice Gleason, a 33-year-old woman, an infant, and the baby’s 62-year-old grandmother. According to privacy law, the only victim allowed to be identified was Gleason, according to the news conference held by the Polk County Sheriff’s Department.
According to Facebook posts and public records, Gleason was in a relationship with Theresa Lanham and they had a baby boy, Jody, in May. Lanham’s mother, Catherine Delgado, owned the property and lived there, News 8 reported.
The youngster, who was Gleason’s daughter from a previous relationship, was airlifted to Tampa General Hospital where she was is in stable condition, WFLA News8 reported.
The suspect, Bryan Riley, 33, is being held without bond on four counts of first-degree murder; seven counts of attempted murder of a law enforcement officer; two counts of shooting into a building. He received a $5,000 bond for each of these two charges; two counts of armed burglary with assault/battery; second-degree arson, and attempted murder in the first degree with a weapon, WKRG News previously reported.
At his first court appearance on Monday, he was appointed a public defender, but intends to hire a private attorney, the news station reported.
Sheriff Grady Judd with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office described Riley’s rampage as “evil” and “animalistic,” during a news conference.
“I will never be able to unsee that mother with that deceased infant in her arms,” Judd said. “It is a horror of the utmost magnitude.”
On Saturday night, around 7:30 p.m., hours before the early morning shooting, Riley, who lives about 30 miles away, confronted Gleason, who had been mowing his lawn at his home in Lakeland, Florida. Riley told the victim that he was looking for a person named Amber and that God had sent him to prevent a suicide. Gleason told Riley that no one lived there by that name and asked him to leave. After he left, the sheriff’s department received a 911 about a suspicious vehicle and the strange person, Sheriff Grady Judd said in a news conference.
Judd said when police arrived Riley was already gone, and that deputies searched the area and found nothing suspicious. At around 4:30 a.m. Sunday, Judd said one of the sheriffs, who lives nearby heard two rounds of gunfire going off. He immediately notified his deputies to respond, and within a few seconds, 911 calls came in of an active shooter.
Judd said their active shooter protocol was enforced and when deputies arrived they said a truck was on fire and there was a popping noise in the front yard. There had been a line of breakable lights leading up to the entrance of the house. “We saw an individual totally outfitted in body armor and looked as if he was ready to engage us in an active shooter situation. We did not see that he had a gun and he ran back into the house,” he said.
Judd continued, “We heard another round of gunfire and a woman scream and a baby whimper.”
The front door was barricaded, as officers tried to enter the house. A gunfight followed between the suspect and the officers. Judd said dozens, “if not hundreds of rounds,” were fired before Riley ran back into the house.
Riley surrendered to the police. He was handcuffed and he was taken to the hospital for a gunshot wound he sustained.
Meanwhile, officers heard cries for help but were unsure if the home was booby-trapped or additional shooters were inside. When they entered, they found the 11-year old victim, shot multiple times. She was still alive.
“She looked our deputy in the eye and said, there is three more dead people in the house,” Judd said, before the girl was airlifted to the h0spital.
Judd said while Riley was being treated in the emergency room, he tried to grab an officer’s gun before being restrained, Judd said.
“This man killed four people this morning and tried to kill our deputies and gave up,” Judd said during the news conference.
The sheriff said that Riley, whose vehicle had Marine Corps Florida license plates, described himself as a survivalist. He said his car was stocked with bleeding control kits and other supplies and that he was ready for battle.
Judd said that Riley was taking meth, and admitted that he took drugs before going on the shooting rampage.
After the shooting, he told detectives that he was a “sick guy” and said he wanted to go to jail. He said he shot the family because “God told him to,” News 8 reported.
Riley, an ex-marine, served in the U.S. Marine Corps and was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan before being honorably discharged, according to News 8.
He worked as a security guard and had no criminal history, officials said, WFAL reported.
The sheriff said Riley’s girlfriend told investigators that Riley’s behavior became increasingly erratic. She told authorities that he suffers from PTSD, and recently claimed that he could talk directly with God,
“This guy was a war hero. He fought for his country,” Judd said, “Now, he’s a cold-blooded killer.”