‘God told me to kill everyone’: Sheriff Judd says Lakeland massacre suspect believed sex-trafficking victim lived at home

Polk County

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd recapped the events that took place leading up to and during this weekend’s mass shooting in Lakeland.

“We have a family that is going through a horror right now that no one should ever have to go through,” Judd said.

The question Sheriff Judd and investigators have been trying to answer is why did 33-year-old Bryan James Riley target this family?

During a press conference Thursday morning, Judd reiterated the fact there was no relationship between Riley and the victims. However, investigators now know how he came across the family in the first place.

According to the sheriff, a witness who lives in the area of North Socrum Loop Road told deputies he had talked to his friend, Riley, a few days prior to the massacre. The witness told law enforcement Riley said he was planning to help with Hurricane Ida relief assistance and offered to give Riley a first aid kit.

Riley went to pick up the first aid kit around 6:45 p.m. Saturday and left just after 7:10 p.m. Shortly after, Riley approached Justice Gleason, one of the victims, while he was mowing his lawn.

Judd said Riley approached 40-year-old Gleason and told him “God said that I need to talk to Amber because she’s going to commit suicide.” Justice told Riley there’s was no one at the home by the name of Amber. Another family member, who is also a victim, came outside and threatened to call the police.

(Photo: Polk County Sheriff’s Office / WFLA)

“He drove off mad,” Judd said about Riley. “Never did Bryan Riley make a threat, never. He just wanted to talk to Amber because he thought she was going to commit suicide. Just a bizarre, irrational statement.”

The sheriff said Riley later told investigators, “God told me to kill everyone and to rescue Amber because she’s a victim of sex trafficking.”

In his confession, Judd said Riley told investigators he went home to craft a plan in which he would have “to kill everyone.”

Law enforcement officials believe Riley left his Brandon home around 1 a.m. Sunday with a large bag. The massacre didn’t begin until 4:22 a.m.

Riley told investigators when he left his home, he took the following actions, according to Judd:

  • Did “reconnaissance” on the Lakeland home
  • Repositioned his truck three times so he would have a fast escape
  • Found three entrance points into the home
  • Planned diversions and an exit strategy
  • Slashed the tires of two vehicles, one of which he would later set on fire
  • Set a path of glowsticks so he’d be able to find his way out, “and so ‘Amber’ would be able to find her way out”

“There were no victims of sex crimes in that house,” Judd said.

As Riley began to “clear the house,” the sheriff said he shot and killed the first victim, a 62-year-old woman, using roughly an entire magazine.

He then killed the family dog before trying to open a bathroom door, where the rest of the family was hiding, according to Judd. Once inside the bathroom, he shot and killed Gleason, Gleason’s partner, and a 3-month-old baby.

According to Judd, Riley grabbed an 11-year-old also hiding in the bathroom and brought her into the living room where he’d ask her where Amber was. When she responded saying she didn’t know an Amber or where she was, Judd said Riley shot her multiple times in her hands, thigh, and stomach.

“When she wouldn’t tell me where Amber was, I eliminated her,” Riley told investigators, according to Sheriff Judd.

The 11-year-old later told investigators she “played dead and prayed,” allowing her to survive the horrific incident.

Once law enforcement arrived at the home, Judd said Riley had a shootout with deputies and police and was shot in the stomach before surrendering.

Law enforcement officials fired approximately 59 times, while Riley shot “in excess of 100 times” while at the home, the sheriff said.

While being treated for his gunshot wound is when Riley confessed to committing the entire shooting.

Judd said he had “advanced tactical training,” which included four years in the Marines, three years in the reserves, and worked in executive and private security. He also had 16 separate certificates in security.

Courtesy: Polk County Sheriff’s Office via Bryan Riley’s Facebook page

The sheriff said investigators will continue to work and search through the home this week.

Those wishing to help the family via the Polk Sheriff Charities should visit the sheriff’s office website and select “Quadruple Homicide Victims” when inputting their donation amount.

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