‘Evil’ former military sharpshooter kills four in seemingly random attack

Bryan Riley, 33, of Brandon, Florida. [Image credit: Polk County Sheriff's Office]

"He is evil in the flesh. He is a rabid animal," Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd stated during a press conference streamed on the evening of Sunday, September 5, hours after 33-year-old Bryan Riley is accused of shooting four people including a 3-month-old infant.


"It was total, total unprovoked mass murder."


According to the press briefing, officers spoke with Riley's girlfriend after the shooting. She told investigators that she had been in a relationship with him for approximately four years and that she had seen him depressed due to PTSD from his service in the military, but she had never seen him show violent inclinations.


She told investigators that things began to change though, last Sunday. She told officers that Riley returned home on Sunday after working security at an unspecified church in Orlando and informed her that God had spoken to him, provided him with a gift, and that he could now speak directly to God.


He allegedly also informed her that God had told him to assist with relief efforts stemming from hurricane Ida. To that end, he is said to have purchased $1,000 in cigars, claiming to be following God's directions.


Over the week, he is said to have become increasingly erratic and to have stopped sleeping.


On the evening of Saturday, September 4 Riley is said to have approached a man at a residence on N Socrum Loop Road and informed him that he was there to speak with one of the man's daughters, Amber, who he stated God had told him was going to commit suicide.


A number of people at the scene told him that there was no one there by the name of Amber and asked him to leave, stating that they would call the police if he didn't depart. Riley is alleged to have responded "I'm the cops for God," before eventually leaving before officers arrived to the scene.


According to the timeline investigators have been able to piece together at this point, Riley is said to have returned to his residence approximately 45 minutes away and to have spoken with his girlfriend. She stated that she told him he was not speaking directly with God to which he allegedly became angry and stated that he didn't have "room for doubters" in his life.


At approximately 4:30 a lieutenant on patrol heard what he identified as two volleys of gunfire.  At the residence on N Socrum Loop Road, where an officer had responded earlier in the day, officers saw a truck on fire in front of the house and a man dressed in camouflage.


Sheriff Judd stated that seeing people in that area of Florida, early in the mornings dressed in camouflage is not an uncommon event. At the initial sighting, officers didn't see a weapon on the man either, but they did notice a path of glow sticks creating something of a path to the residence.


Once the man entered the residence however, officers reported that they heard more gunshots and "a woman scream and a baby whimper."


Officers were unable to gain entry through the front of the home and had to force entry through the rear of the home. Upon entry, they discovered Riley now dressed with a bulletproof vest and other padding.


Riley and the officer exchanged gunfire briefly while the deputy retreated. There were several additional exchanges of gunfire between Riley and the officers and at some point, he was struck and injured.


A helicopter flying over the scene spotted Riley exiting the residence with his hands raised.


He was taken into custody without further incident and was taken to the Lakeland Regional Hospital for treatment of his injury.


Inside the home, officers found an 11-year-old girl suffering from what could be as many as seven gunshot wounds. She was airlifted to Tampa General Hospital and is expected to recover. She was able to speak with officers and told them as they were assisting her that there were three more victims inside.


Inside the residence, officers found 40-year-old Justice Gleason and a 33-year-old woman clutching a 3-month-old boy. In what was described as an apartment on the property, officers found the infant's 62-year-old grandmother.


Also killed was the family dog, Diogi. Sheriff Judd stated that the dog was "a big dog" and had been named after a sheriff's office K-9 that had been killed in 2006.


According to Marsy's Law, Sheriff Judd was unable to release the names of three of the victims as he did not have permission from the family.


In statements to officers, Riley is said to have told them that the family, to which officers can find "zero connection" "begged for their lives" but that he "killed them anyways."


Riley is alleged to have also told investigators that he was on methamphetamine and "You know why I did this."


Riley is described as someone with virtually no criminal history that was honorably discharged from the military after serving four years active duty. He spent an additional three years in the reserves and is said to have been designated as a "sharp shooter" serving in Iraq in 2008 and Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010.


Riley has been charged with four counts of first degree murder, attempted murder in the first degree, second degree arson, two counts of armed burglary and seven counts of attempted murder of law enforcement.


Riley is being held without bond and has been appointed a public defender. The investigation is still ongoing.