Justice Gleason was named as the 40-year-old victim of a former Marine sharpshooter who authorities say went on a random shooting rampage in Florida, massacring Gleason, his wife and baby, and another relative. The gunman, who did not know the family, also wounded an 11-year-old girl, who has seven bullet wounds, but survived, the sheriff said.
Polk County, Florida, Sheriff Grady Judd described the suspect’s actions as an “action shooter rampage.” The suspect was named as Bryan Riley, a combat veteran who showed up at the Gleason home “for battle” even though he didn’t know the people inside, the sheriff said.
Riley made statements to the officers, saying, “You know why I did this?” the sheriff revealed in a news conference. He said, “There’s three in the house.” He was driving a vehicle with a Marine Corps Florida license plate but described himself as a “survivalist.” He also said he was taking methamphetamine, the sheriff alleged.
“Who in the world would ever expect to have an active shooter in a neighborhood at 4:30 on a Sunday morning,” Judd said. “We find zero connection between our murderer and our victims.”
Gleason was the only victim who was named because Marsy’s law bans the release without family permission. The ages of the other victims were given as a 33-year-old woman, a 3-month-old infant who died in her arms, and a 62-year-old mother and grandmother of two victims.
The sheriff called the suspect a “nut job. This guy was wired up on dope, on meth, what people think is low level non-violent meth. And he came here for a gun battle. We don’t know why.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Suspect First Emerged on Authorities’ Radar When He Approached Gleason While He was Mowing His Lawn; a Friend Remembered How Excited Gleason Was to Be a Father
Tributes flowed in for Gleason. “RIP Justice Gleason. The last time I saw you you were getting on the elevator at the hospital. You were smiling from ear to ear about your new little baby boy, you had that big teddybear for him. This is so heartbreaking son,” a woman wrote on Facebook.
In a press conference, Judd said authorities had received a suspicious vehicle person call, north of the city of Lakeland, in the unincorporated area, on the evening of Saturday, September 4, 2021.
This was the same house where he later went on the rampage, the sheriff said, adding that the suspect was not from the county or city.
A deputy responded and spoke to a woman who said she noticed a suspicious vehicle and there was a strange person in it who said “God sent me here to speak with one of your daughters.”
He also approached a man mowing his lawn, believed to be Gleason. He gave the name Amber and was told there no one there by that name. He said God had sent him there because she was going to commit suicide. But he was again told there was no Amber there, and he left. Police were called. “Nope, there’s no one here by the name of Amber,” Gleason told Riley, the sheriff said.
Authorities arrived in six minutes, and the vehicle and suspect were gone. They spent the next 20 plus minutes scouring the area. This occurred on Saturday night. Police did not find the vehicle.
2. The Rampage Erupted Nine Hours Later, With a Baby Whimpering & a Woman Screaming
Nine hours later, around 4:30 a.m., a lieutenant was two miles away on another call when he heard two volleys of automatic gunfire, Judd said. He was west of the scene about two miles away. He immediately notified his deputies to respond to the area. Within the same few seconds, 911 calls came in of an active shooter, said the sheriff.
An active shooter protocol was implemented. Lakeland was the nearest municipality. Various agencies immediately sent their resources.
What they found when they arrived: “As they tactically approached the area, there was a truck on fire and a popping noise in the front yard. Deputies also noticed these breakable lights that were lining the path from the road to the house. As they approached, they saw an individual totally outfitted in body armor and looked as if he was ready to engage us all in an active shooter situation, but we didn’t see a firearm,” Judd said. He later said the lights were glow sticks.
The sheriff continued, “We are way out in the country area, so it’s not unusual to see people in camo, but he was garbed out. It appeared he had a bullet proof vest on. He ran into this house. We didn’t know who he was or see a gun.”
The deputy heard another volley, a woman scream and a baby whimper. “The lieutenant tried to make entry into the front of the house, it was barricaded.” He ran to the other entrance and a gun battle ensued, when the suspect opened fire on the officers.
“Three deputies were pinned down by gunfire but were gotten out of the way. Everything went silent. Air support was out. The helicopter saw a suspect coming out with his hands raised and he was taken into custody. He was shot one time. He was handcuffed,” the sheriff said.
While being treated at the hospital, “he jumped up and tried to grab a deputy’s gun, and they had to fight with him in the emergency room. They gave him medication to render him not able to fight any longer,” Judd said.
3. Authorities Found an 11-Year-Old Child Victim Who Was Shot Multiple Times
What authorities found was horrific.
“What we find as we enter upon hearing sounds, we find an 11-year-old child shot multiple times,” said Judd. “She was alive. She was transported to the fire and EMS zone and she was airlifted to Tampa General, where she went into surgery. We feared there was going to be booby traps there because of what we saw. They looked into the suspect’s truck. He had everything down to blood stop kits, first aid kits, and he was ready for battle.”
He added, “He is in custody. We’ve gotten the 11-year-old. She looks our deputies in the eye and says, ‘There’s three more dead people in the house.’ They made entry, first with robots in case of explosives, and in the main house they discovered a man, a woman, and an infant in the mother’s arms all shot to death.” The deceased man was Gleason.
Judd noted, “They went to the house directly behind and found another lady shot to death. This man killed four people this morning, tried to kill our deputies, and then gave up.”
4. Gleason, Who Was Remembered as a ‘Good Man & Friend to Everyone,’ Filled His Facebook Page With Pictures of Family
Gleason’s profile picture shows him with a pregnant woman. His cover photo shows an infant.
He wrote on Facebook that he graduated from Auburndale Senior High School. “The pictures are priceless…One beautiful family!!! ❤” a person wrote several weeks ago.
A Facebook page that belongs to the woman who had Gleason’s baby contains a picture of him holding the infant. “Tall like Daddy,” she wrote (we are not naming her because the victims have not been identified publicly.) “This is so sad what has happened to you I know that you are and your family are in heaven rest in peace,” a loved one wrote. She filled her page with pictures of the baby, Gleason, and family.
A friend wrote on Facebook, “Justice Gleason, May you and your beautiful wife…and baby rest in peace with our Lord. You will be missed! You were such a good man and friend to everyone. Praying God comforts your family and everyone that knew you all.”
5. Riley Served in Iraq & Afghanistan as a Sharpshooter; He told Authorities the Victims Begged for Their Lives, the Sheriff Said
The sheriff detailed the suspect’s background.
“He was a Marine. He did four years of service and was honorably discharged and did another three years as a reserve. He was deployed to Iraq in 2008, Afghanistan during 2009-2010, and he during that period of time was designated as a sharpshooter,” Judd said about Riley.
Judd said, “As he’s interviewing with us, he’s trying to convince us that he’s mentally ill. He’s very in tune with his statements and admissions. But he says at one point to our detectives, ‘They begged for their lives and I killed them anyway.’ He’s evil in the flesh. He was a rabid animal. Our hearts and our prayers go out to the family of those who are injured and deceased. It’s just a blessing from the good Lord that during the shootout and the subsequent volleys from the shootouts that my deputies and our colleague from the Lakeland Police Department weren’t shot and killed as well. ”
Riley lived in Brandon, Florida, about 35 miles away from the shootings. Riley worked as a security contractor, Judd said. He had a concealed weapons license, Judd said.
“We located his girlfriend, who was absolutely totally cooperative and she said she had been dating him approximately four years. She said he had PTSD,” Judd said.
Riley’s girlfriend didn’t think he was violent. “She said but a week ago today, last Sunday, he did security at a church in Orlando. And he came home and he said God spoke to him and now he could speak directly to God. And she said I’d never seen that type of behavior. But once again he wasn’t violent,” Judd said. The sheriff added, “Virtually no criminal history. When he was a teenager he had a small charge and then almost nothing. We’re not dealing with a traditional criminal here. But what we’re dealing with is someone who obviously had mental health issues, at least this last week, had PTSD and whether or not we follow that back to the military, we don’t know.”
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