Florida Shooting: 4 Are Found Dead After Man Opens Fire on Deputies

A former Marine sharpshooter who served in Afghanistan and Iraq fatally shot four people, including an infant, in two homes near Lakeland, Fla., early on Sunday morning and exchanged gunfire with sheriff’s deputies before he was taken into custody, the authorities said.

The gunman, who also shot and wounded an 11-year-old girl, surrendered after he was shot at least once during two gunfights with deputies in which dozens, if not hundreds, of rounds were fired in a residential neighborhood in Polk County, Fla., the county sheriff, Grady Judd, told reporters.

Three of the people who were killed — a 40-year-old man, a 33-year-old woman and a 3-month-old boy whom the woman was cradling in her arms — were found inside one home, the authorities said. A fourth victim, the infant’s 62-year-old grandmother, was found shot to death in another home on the same property.

Investigators could not immediately say what prompted the rampage, which they said began around 4:30 a.m. Sheriff Judd said that so far, his department’s investigation had found “zero connection” between the gunman and the victims.

They identified the gunman as Bryan J. Riley, 33, of Brandon, Fla., which is east of Tampa and more than 20 miles from where the attack occurred. He was taken into custody by officers from several law enforcement agencies in tactical gear as a helicopter hovered above the scene. No law enforcement officers were injured.

Mr. Riley was charged with four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of attempted first-degree murder of law enforcement officers and a separate count of attempted murder, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s office. He was also charged with one count of arson and two counts of armed burglary with assault and shooting into a building.

He will have a court appearance on Monday morning, the sheriff’s office said.

Sheriff Judd said at a news conference that Mr. Riley was experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and was wearing body armor and camouflage when he barricaded himself inside one of the homes. There was no known connection between the victims and Mr. Riley, who works in “executive protection as a body guard and to provide security,” the sheriff said.

“He says at one point to our detectives, ‘They begged for their lives, and I killed them anyway,’” Sheriff Judd said on Sunday afternoon. “He’s evil in the flesh. He was a rabid animal.”

The sheriff identified the man who was killed as Justice Gleason, 40, of Lakeland, but did not release the names of the others who were fatally shot. A family dog, which was named for a Polk County sheriff’s dog that was fatally shot along with its handler in the line of duty, was also killed, the sheriff said.

While Mr. Riley was being treated at a hospital emergency room, he tried to grab a police officer’s gun and had to be medicated and restrained, Sheriff Judd said.

“He was ready for battle,” Sheriff Judd said earlier on Sunday of Mr. Riley, who he said had told deputies that he was a “survivalist” and had taken methamphetamine.

Credit…Polk County Sheriff

The 11-year-old girl was flown to Tampa, Fla., which is about 35 miles southwest of Lakeland, and was expected to recover after being shot seven times, the sheriff said. Additional information on her condition was not immediately available.

“She looks our deputies in the eye and said, ‘There’s three more dead people in the house,’” Sheriff Judd said.

It was not immediately clear whether Mr. Riley had a lawyer. A person who answered the phone at a number listed for him hung up without commenting on Sunday.

Sheriff Judd said the first indication that something was amiss came around 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, when a woman called the authorities to say that a suspicious man was sitting in a parked vehicle in the neighborhood.

She told them of a frightening encounter with the man, who she said had told her that “God sent me here to speak with one of your daughters.”

By the time a sheriff’s deputy arrived about six minutes later, the man was gone, Sheriff Judd said.

About nine hours later, a sheriff’s lieutenant who was on another call two miles away heard two volleys of automatic gunfire, the sheriff said. When law enforcement officers arrived at the property, which has three homes, they found a truck on fire. They also found a path of glow sticks from the road up to the residence.

“We saw an individual totally outfitted in body armor and looked as if he was ready to engage us all in an active shooter situation,” Sheriff Judd said.

The man retreated inside the home, and the sheriff said that officers could hear a woman scream and a baby whimper after more gunfire.

The sheriff’s lieutenant tried to enter the house through the front door but it was barricaded, the sheriff said. When he entered the house from the back, the gunman started shooting, and the lieutenant returned fire, Sheriff Judd said, adding that three other deputies were “pinned down” during a standoff.

Sheriff Judd said investigators found a stockpile of supplies in Mr. Riley’s truck, including a bleeding-control first-aid kit. Investigators found at least two firearms at the scene, he said.

“Who in the world would ever expect to have an active shooter in a neighborhood at 4:30 on a Sunday morning?” he said.

Before investigators could enter the home, he said, robots were sent in to check for explosives or other booby traps. He did not say whether investigators found any.

“This is a horrific incident,” Brian Haas, the state attorney for Florida’s 10th Judicial Circuit, said at the news conference. “Our community and many families are hurting this morning.”

Sheriff Judd said that Mr. Riley’s girlfriend was cooperating with investigators and that she had told them that he had become more erratic in the past week.

In addition to serving in Afghanistan, Mr. Riley had also deployed to Iraq during his four years in the Marines and three years as a reservist, the sheriff said. Mr. Riley had been honorably discharged, he said, and had “virtually no criminal history.”

“So we’re not dealing with a traditional criminal here,” Sheriff Judd said.

Mr. Riley’s girlfriend told the authorities that he had worked in security at a church in Orlando and began having delusions, the sheriff said.

“He came home and said God spoke to him and now he can talk directly to God,” the sheriff said, citing the account Mr. Riley’s girlfriend had given investigators.

The girlfriend said that Mr. Riley claimed to have received instructions from God to help the survivors of Hurricane Ida, and that he bought $1,000 worth of cigars to give to them, the sheriff said.

When he arrived in Polk County on Saturday night, the authorities said, Mr. Riley told people in the neighborhood that God had sent him to save a woman before she took her own life. But no woman by the name that he gave lived there, the sheriff said.

According to his LinkedIn page, Mr. Riley used to work at ESS Global Corporation, a security company. A company representative could not be reached on Sunday night.

Florida security officers must have a license for the job. His security officer license was set to expire in November, according to a database published by the Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services. He also had a firearm license and had applied for a second one, which was “subject to review” as of Sunday.

At a news conference on Sunday morning, before he publicly identified Mr. Riley as the suspect, Sheriff Judd said he regretted that the gunman had come out with his hands up rather than brandishing a weapon.

“If he’d given us the opportunity,” he said, deputies would have “shot him up a lot,” and the authorities would have “had a different conversation here this morning.”

“But he didn’t, because he was a coward,” Sheriff Judd added. “You see, it’s easy to shoot innocent children and babies and people in the middle of the night when you’ve got the gun and they don’t. But he was not much of a man.”

Jesus Jiménez and Eduardo Medina contributed reporting.

The Tycoon Herald