Lakeland, FL – Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said he and his deputies wish the standoff with the methamphetamine-fueled gunman who murdered four random people – including a woman and the baby boy she was holding – would have ended differently.
“It would’ve been nice if he’d have come out with a gun and then we’d have been able to read a newspaper through him,” Sheriff Judd said during a press conference on Sunday. “If he’d have given us the opportunity, we’d have shot him up a lot.”
The sheriff said the gunman, later identified as 33-year-old Bryan Riley, was a “coward” who threw his hands in the air and surrendered after he was shot by deputies during the standoff at the home of the family he murdered.
“You see, it’s easy to shoot innocent children and babies and people in the middle of the night when you got the gun and they don’t,” he told The Washington Post. “But when he saw his life was in danger, he quit.”
Sheriff Judd said he and his deputies “certainly wished he’d come out and finished his fight,” according to The Washington Post.
The incident began at approximately 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 4, when a woman called 911 to report a suspicious man had just showed up in her yard on North Socrum Loop Road near Fulton Green Road, WNYW reported.
The woman said the man, later identified as Riley, told her that God had sent him to the home to speak to her daughter, Amber, but there was no one at the home by that name, the sheriff told reporters.
The woman said she did not know the man and told him to leave, but he refused, WNYW reported.
She then alerted a man on a lawnmower about the reason for Riley’s visit.
Riley told the man that “Amber” was suicidal and that God sent him to their house to rescue her, Sheriff Judd said.
The man on the lawnmower reiterated that no one by that name lived there and told him he needed to leave or they would call the police, WNYW reported.
Riley allegedly told the man he didn’t need to call the cops because he is the cops for God, Sheriff Judd told reporters.
When Polk County deputies arrived at the family’s home six minutes later, Riley had already left, WNYW reported.
They spent nearly a half hour searching for the suspect, but did not find him or his vehicle, according to WFLA.
A Polk County sheriff’s lieutenant was out on another call at approximately 4:30 a.m. on Sept. 5 when he heard two volleys of gunfire coming from a location approximately two miles away from his location, Sheriff Judd said.
Residents began calling 911 about the gunfire at approximately the same time, WNYW reported.
“It was the same exact house that (the gunman) showed up nine hours earlier,” Sheriff Judd told reporters, according to WFLA.
Deputies responded to the home and found a truck on fire and a path of glow sticks leading to the residence, Sheriff Judd said.
They heard a “popping” noise out in the front yard just before they saw a suspect outside the house, he explained.
The sheriff said Riley was “totally outfitted in body armor and looked as if he was ready to engage us all in active shooter situation, but we didn’t see a firearm,” WFLA reported.
The suspect ran into the home just before gunfire erupted inside.
Deputies said they could hear a woman screaming and a baby whimpering, Sheriff Judd said.
They tried to get into the home through the front door, but Riley had barricaded it, WFLA reported.
When deputies entered through the back door, Riley opened fire on them, according to the sheriff.
“[He] tried to murder a whole lot of my deputies,” Sheriff Judd told reporters.
The gunman exchanged dozens of rounds of gunfire with the deputies before they backed out of the home.
At least one of the rounds hit the suspect, who surrendered a short while later.
“He came out with his hands up and that’s why there was no more gunfire,” Sheriff Judd said, according to WNYW. “It would be nice if he had come out with a gun and then we would have been able to read a newspaper through him and we’d be having a different conversation right now. But when someone gives up, we take them into custody peacefully.”
“If (Riley) had given us the opportunity, we would have shot him up a lot, but he didn’t because he was a coward,” he added.
Riley was transported to Lakeland Regional Hospital, where he allegedly grabbed a Lakeland police officer’s gun and tried to steal it, the sheriff said.
First responders were able to subdue him.
Law enforcement officers entered the house and found an 11-year-old girl suffering from at least seven gunshot wounds, WFLA reported.
“She looks our deputies in the eye and says, ‘There’s three more dead people in the house,’” Sheriff Judd told reporters.
The little girl was airlifted to Tampa General Hospital, where she was rushed into emergency surgery, WNYW reported.
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) searched the home with robots to make sure Riley had not set up any booby traps before deputies went in to conduct a thorough search, according to WFLA.
Sheriff Judd said there are three residences on the property.
In the main house, deputies found the bodies of 40-year-old Justice Gleason, his 33-year-old girlfriend, Theresa Lanham, and their three-month old baby boy, Jody, who was in his mother’s arms, WNYW reported.
“I will never be able to unsee that mother with that deceased infant in her arms as they both lie there dead,” Judd said. “It is a horror of the utmost magnitude.”
The body of a 62-year-old woman, Catherine Delgado, was found inside a second home on the property, WFLA reported.
Sheriff Judd said the woman was the grandmother of the murdered baby.
Riley allegedly told detectives the victims “begged for their lives” but that he “killed them anyway,” Sheriff Judd told reporters, according to WNYW.
“He’s just evil in the flesh,” the sheriff said. “He is a rabid animal.”
The family also has a 10-year-old girl, who was found safe at another location, Sheriff Judd said.
The gunman fatally shot the family’s dog, Diogi, who was named in honor of a PCSO K9 who was killed in the line of duty 16 years ago, WNYW reported.
The 11-year-old girl who was shot in the attack remained in critical but stable condition on Monday evening, The Washington Post reported.
Sheriff Judd said she is “in good spirits” and doing much better.
The sheriff told reporters the little girl said she pretended to be dead during the massacre, WESH reported.
“She said, ‘I played dead, and I prayed,’” he recounted.
Investigators have found absolutely no connection between the family and their alleged killer, Sheriff Judd said.
“This guy was on dope, on meth, what ‘those people’ think is low-level, non-violent meth – there’s your sign,” the sheriff added.
Riley is a U.S. Marine Corps sharpshooter who joined the Reserves after being honorably discharged after four years of service, WNYW reported.
He was working as a security guard with ESS Global Corporation at the time of the attack.
Sheriff Judd said Riley had no criminal history prior to the shooting.
“He went there on a mission to kill all of these wonderful people,” Sheriff Judd told WESH.
His girlfriend told investigators Riley suffers from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, but that he has never been violent in the past.
She said he went to perform security duties at a church in Orlando over the weekend.
When he came home, he told her he could talk to God and began acting erratically, she said.
He even went out and inexplicably bought $1,000 worth of cigars to give to Hurricane Ida victims to “help” them, according to his girlfriend.
Sheriff Judd said the woman told investigators Riley had talked to her about meeting with the man who was riding a lawnmower, WNYW reported.
She said Riley claimed God told him he needed to save the man’s daughter, at which point the girlfriend told Riley that he cannot actually speak to God, according to the sheriff.
“There’s no room for doubters in my life,” Riley allegedly told her.
His girlfriend said she went to bed after their argument, and that Riley was gone when she woke up at 6:30 a.m. on Sunday, WNYW reported.
Riley allegedly told investigators that he is a survivalist and that he was using methamphetamine at the time of the murders, Sheriff Judd said.
“Crazy people with guns are dangerous,” the sheriff told reporters, according to WNYW. “Good people with guns keep crazy people with guns at bay and our deputies and police officers were the good people with guns tonight.”
Riley was treated for his gunshot wound at the hospital and has since been booked into jail on seven counts of attempted murder of a law enforcement officer, four counts of first-degree murder, two counts of armed burglary with assault and battery, two counts of shooting into a building, attempted murder in the first degree with a weapon, and second-degree arson, WESH reported.