(POLK COUNTY, Fla.)A young girl who was “tortured” and shot multiple times when a former Marine sharpshooter allegedly invaded her home and killed four members of her family, including her baby brother, told investigators she survived by playing dead, authorities said on Thursday.
The 11-year-old is expected to recover from her injuries, but authorities said what she experienced may haunt her for the rest of her life.
Polk County, Florida, authorities said the girl witnessed Bryan Riley, 33, allegedly shoot her father, Justice Gleason, 40; her dad’s girlfriend, Theresa Lanham, 33; and her 3-month-old brother in the Sunday morning massacre near Lakeland, 35 miles east of Tampa. Riley is also accused of killing Lanham’s 62-year-old mother, Catherine Delgado.
Riley allegedly shot and killed the family’s dog, too, officials said.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said Gleason’s daughter, the sole survivor of the attack, told investigators how she avoided being killed, after allegedly being tortured and shot by the stranger who had zero connection to her family.
“This 11-year-old was very brave and very smart, and she out-thought him. She said, ‘I played dead and I prayed,"” Judd said at a news conference Thursday.
Riley is charged with four counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted first-degree murder, seven counts of attempted first-degree murder on a law enforcement officer, shooting into an occupied dwelling, two counts of armed burglary with battery, arson and cruelty to an animal. He is being held without bond.
The sheriff said Riley has shown no remorse. “He’s evil,” Judd said.
Judd said Riley first showed up at the home around 7 p.m. Saturday after picking up a first-aid kit from a friend who lives nearby, which he claimed he planned to donate to a Hurricane Ida relief organization.
Upon leaving his friend’s home, he saw Gleason mowing his front yard and stopped. He allegedly told Gleason that God sent him to speak to a girl named Amber, who he claimed was suicidal and being held as a sex-trafficking victim, Judd said. He was told no one by that name lived at the address and was ordered to leave.
The family called deputies, but they could not find Riley, Judd said. He said Riley returned to the home about 4:30 a.m. Sunday armed with three guns and in full-body armor.
Judd said Riley, who as a Marine was deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, allegedly told investigators that he “created an ops plan."”
“In his confession, he said, ‘You know what that means? You have to kill everybody,"” said Judd, adding that Riley’s girlfriend told investigators he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
He said the suspect broke into an in-law unit behind the main house and killed Delgado. Riley allegedly shot his way into the main house and found Gleason, Lanham, her baby and the girl hiding in a bathroom, according to the sheriff.
After allegedly killing Gleason, Lanham and the baby, Judd said, Riley took the girl into the living room and questioned her about the whereabouts of Amber, Judd said. When the girl told him she didn’t know Amber, he allegedly counted down, “three, two, one” and shot her in the stomach, Judd said. When she again denied knowing Amber, Riley allegedly shot her in the hand and legs before firing what he wrongly believed to be the fatal shot, Judd said.
When deputies arrived, a shootout ensued. Riley was hit in the stomach and surrendered, Judd said.
Judd said the sheriff’s department is collecting donations to help the family with funeral costs and the young survivor’s hospital bills. He said his agency has established an online page to accept contributions.
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