A Marine veteran who identified himself as a “survivalist” experiencing visions from God told police that he didn’t know the four members of a family he brutally murdered over the weekend—and admitted he shot a 3-month-old baby because he’s a “sick guy,” according to court documents.
The suspect, 33-year-old Bryan Riley of Brandon, Florida, was ordered held without bond during his first court appearance on Monday. He requested his own lawyer and will be appointed one until he can secure his own, a judge said, according to the AP.
Riley allegedly told authorities he was high on meth when, clad in camouflage, he murdered four people—including a mom who was found dead with her slain infant in her arms—at two homes outside of Tampa, Florida, on Sunday morning, claiming that he had been sent by God. He also gunned down the family’s dog.
“When you see somebody so heartless, so calculating, that they will shoot a mother clinging to her 3-month-old baby, and kill the baby, and shoot the family dog—this guy is heartless and calculating with his murder,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said during a press conference on Sunday.
In the aftermath of the bloodbath, Riley allegedly told investigators that “they begged for their lives and I killed them anyway,” according to Judd.
“This man is evil in the flesh,” he said.
When asked why he killed the 3-month-old baby, Riley simply said, “Because I’m a sick guy. I want to confess to all of it and be sent to jail,” according to an affidavit obtained by The Washington Post.
In the police interview, Riley allegedly also said that he set a vehicle nearby on fire as an “exit strategy,” according to the affidavit.
Riley, who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, was booked into Polk County Jail and now faces four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of attempted first-degree murder of law enforcement officers, cruelty to an animal, shooting into a building, arson, and burglary, the sheriff’s office wrote on Twitter.
An 11-year-old girl, who was shot at least seven times, was taken to Tampa General Hospital, where she is expected to recover, Judd said.
According to local outlets, Riley initially approached Justice Gleason, 40, while Gleason was mowing the lawn outside one of the houses on Saturday evening. After initially leaving the premises, Riley returned hours later and killed Gleason, the 33-year-old mom and her baby boy, as well as the baby’s 62-year-old grandmother in a nearby home. Judd said the other victims were “related” to Gleason but declined to release further details.
Riley allegedly told Gleason that God had called on him to stop a girl who he claimed was a daughter of Gleason’s named “Amber” from committing suicide, Judd said. The sheriff said a witness reported that Gleason and another victim told Riley that no one at the residence went by that name and told him to leave. Not long after Riley alleged he was the “cops for God,” Gleason called law enforcement, Judd said.
When authorities went looking for Riley, he had returned home, but allegedly came back hours later with armor and a car stocked with supplies for a gun battle, authorities said.
After calls about gunfire in the early morning on Monday, law enforcement returned to the scene, and saw Riley, who initially appeared to be unarmed, duck back into the house with his victims, where he allegedly fired more shots that were followed by whimpers.
Riley, who had multiple firearms and a concealed weapons license, then exchanged gunfire with authorities during a standoff, Judd said.
According to the sheriff, Riley referred to himself as a “survivalist,” and had even lined a path to the house with glow sticks, then blocked that entrance, as a diversion tactic. When authorities circled to the back of the house, Judd said that Riley was prepared for a fight, with head and knee protection and a bulletproof vest. When he was shot once after firing at authorities, Riley surrendered with hands up, the sheriff said.
While being treated for his injuries at a local trauma center, Riley at one point jumped up and attempted to grab a Lakeland police officer’s pistol. The officer had to fight with him in the emergency room, Judd said.
Riley’s girlfriend of roughly four years told investigators that she was “mortified and shocked” and that he had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, but had not been violent. According to Judd, she told investigators her boyfriend had repeatedly insisted to her in recent days that he could talk directly with God and that God had advised him to amass supplies for Hurricane Ida victims, including $1,000 worth of cigars as a “relief present.”
Judd said that Riley was likely suffering from mental health issues and had virtually no criminal record after spending four years in the Corps and another three years in the reserves.
“This guy, prior to this morning, was a war hero. He fought for his country in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Judd said. “He was a decorated military veteran, and this morning he’s a cold, calculated murderer.”