More details emerged on Monday about the military veteran wearing full body armor who fatally shot four people, including a mother and the baby she was cradling, and seriously injuring another child, before engaging in a massive gunfight with law enforcement in Florida at the weekend.
Bryan Riley, 33, was wounded and surrendered in Lakeland, which lies between Orlando and Tampa in central Florida, the authorities said.
An 11-year-old girl who was shot seven times survived.
Polk county sheriff Grady Judd said Riley, a former US Marine who served as a sharpshooter in the US wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, seemed to have targeted his victims at random and appeared to be suffering from mental health issues.
Judd said Riley’s girlfriend told authorities Riley had been slowly unraveling for weeks and repeatedly told her that he could communicate directly with God.
Investigators said preliminary evidence shows that 40-year-old victim Justice Gleason just happened to be an unlucky stranger out mowing his lawn on Saturday night when Riley drove by his home in Lakeland and began making deranged claims about the man’s family.
Authorities responded to the scene but never found Riley.
About nine hours later, around 4.30am on Sunday, Riley returned to the home, laying out glow-sticks to create a path leading to the house, in what the sheriff’s office deduced was a ploy to draw officers “into an ambush”, Judd said.
Another law enforcement officer who just happened to be on duty some distance away heard popping noises and immediately alerted the authorities, who prepared for dealing with a potential shooter and brought a heft police presence swiftly to the scene.
Following the sounds of gunfire, authorities arrived at the home and found Riley’s white truck ablaze and an apparently unarmed Riley outside, dressed in camouflage.
Riley immediately ran inside, where authorities heard another round of gunfire, “a woman scream and a baby whimper,” Judd said.
Officers tried to enter the front of the house, but it was barricaded. When they circled to the back, they encountered Riley, who appeared then to have put on full body armor including head and knee coverings and a bulletproof vest.
Authorities exchanged heavy gunfire, with dozens “if not hundreds of rounds” fired, before Riley retreated back into the home, according to the sheriff.
Everything fell silent, Judd said, until a helicopter unit alerted authorities on the ground that Riley was coming out.
He had been shot once and was ready to surrender.
Meanwhile, officers heard cries for help inside the home, but were unsure whether there were additional shooters and feared the home was booby-trapped, the authorities said.
One sergeant took a chance and rushed in and found the 11-year-old girl who had been shot at least seven times, grabbed her and brought her out to safety, where she told sheriff’s deputies there were three dead people inside the house, Judd said.
The girl was rushed into surgery and was expected to survive.
Deputies sent robots into the home to check for explosives and other traps. When it was clear, they found the bodies of Gleason and other unnamed victims, the 33-year-old mother and the baby.
They also found the baby’s 62-year-old grandmother, who was in a separate home nearby. Authorities released only Gleason’s name, and did not say if or how he was related to the other victims. The family dog had also been shot and killed.
Authorities said Riley’s girlfriend of four years, whom he lived with, has been talking with the authorities and has said she is shocked by what occurred, as Riley was never violent – but that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and had become increasingly erratic.
She said he’d spent the previous week on what he called a mission from God, stockpiling supplies that he said were for Hurricane Ida victims, including $1,000 worth of cigars.
Riley, who had no criminal history, also told authorities he was on methamphetamines. His vehicle had also been stocked with supplies for a gunfight, authorities said, including bleeding control kits.
While being treated at the hospital, Riley jumped up and tried to grab an officer’s gun.
“They had to fight with him again in the emergency room,” Judd said, adding that Riley was ultimately tied down and medicated. He is expected to recover and will be transferred to jail to face charges.