Family Massacre Prompted By Alleged Shooter Spotting 11-Year-Old in Yard: Police

Bryan Riley, the U.S. Marine who is accused of massacring a family of four on Sunday in Lakeland, Florida, was plagued by delusions that the people he murdered were child sex traffickers holding hostage an imaginary girl named Amber, the Associated Press reported.

Riley was on his way to provide relief help for Hurricane Ida when he saw Justice Gleason mowing his lawn with his 11-year-old daughter in the yard, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said.

Believing God had sent him to save the girl, Riley confronted Gleason before being asked to leave. Gleason repeatedly told Riley that no one named Amber lived at the house.

"This was all fiction, all made up by him," Judd said. "There were no victims of sex trafficking in that house."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Lake Massacre
Officers from the Polk County Sheriff's Department work outside on September 7, 2021, in Lakeland, Florida, at the home where a family of four was shot and killed. John Raoux/AP Photo

Riley, who faces murder and other charges in Sunday's killings, stopped by the slain family's Lakeland home briefly the day before after going to a nearby friend's house to pick up a first aid kit, Judd said at a news conference.

Judd provided numerous new details about Sunday's slayings, including that Riley, wearing body armor, had three weapons with him and fired at least 100 shots in the main home and a smaller one in back where Catherine Delgado, 62, was the first to be killed.

Law enforcement officers fired about 60 shots in a gun battle that left Riley with a gunshot wound to the abdomen that is not life-threatening, Judd said. Riley surrendered after that.

"He was a coward. An absolute coward. He looks like a man, but he's not a man. He's a sniveling coward," Judd told reporters.

The 11-year-old girl survived the attack despite being shot multiple times and has undergone four surgeries, Judd said.

She told investigators that her family huddled in a bathroom after Riley shot his way into the home, killed their dog and then attacked everyone hiding there. Riley repeatedly asked about Amber and then counted down—three, two, one—before shooting her and eventually leaving her for dead, she told authorities.

Judd said the girl played dead and was able to survive despite wounds to her legs, hand and abdomen.

"That's the reason she's alive today," the sheriff said.

The victims are Gleason, 40; his 33-year-old girlfriend, Theresa Lanham; their baby boy, Jody, who was born in May; and Delgado, who was Lanham's mother and owned the property. They possessed no weapons.

Riley, 33, served as a Marine in Iraq and Afghanistan and was working as a security guard in the Lakeland area, including at a church. After that recent job, his girlfriend of four years told investigators, Riley began talking about communication with God but not about violence.

"No one has told us they knew anything about violence," Judd said.

Riley is recovering from his gunshot wound and is being held without bond on murder, attempted murder and other charges. An October 12 arraignment date is set for him to enter a plea. Judd said he has already confessed to the crimes, which could bring the death penalty.

Investigators also have not yet verified Riley's post-arrest statement to officers that he was high on methamphetamines at the time of the shooting. No evidence of that drug has been found, although Judd said illegal steroids where found at Riley's home in Brandon and hospital blood tests could reveal more.

"This investigation is not near over. This is going to go on for weeks and weeks and weeks," the sheriff said. "This mass murder is exceptionally horrible."