‘Get up now, Amber!’ 911 call reveals more details in North Lakeland quadruple homicide
LAKELAND – Between gunshots, Bryan Riley can be heard yelling “Amber! Get up now, Amber!” at one of the victims of a deadly shooting in North Lakeland on Sunday morning, according to a previously unreleased segment of a 911 call that was included in an arrest affidavit.
“I’m not Amber,” a crying female can be heard saying. She tells Riley her name, which is redacted from the affidavit. Then Riley is heard asking, “Did you know they were trafficking kids?” before gunshots continue.
According to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, Riley, 33, was at the home because he thought God told him a girl named Amber was going to commit suicide. He first went to the home along North Socrum Loop Road near Fulton Green Road on Saturday evening, and after being rebuffed by the family, returned Sunday before 4:30 a.m.
‘God bless all their souls’: Neighbors, friends left to wonder why Lakeland family shot to death
Veterans’ advocate: PTSD likely not the cause of Bryan Riley’s alleged violent actions
Sheriff’s officials say that’s when he killed Justice Gleason, 40, Theresa Lanham, 33, and their 3-month-old baby boy. He also wounded an 11-year-old girl. Authorities say he had already killed Lanham’s mother, 62-year-old Cathy Delgado, in another home on the same property.
Riley is facing four first-degree murder charges, two armed burglary with assault charges, seven counts of attempted first-degree murder of law enforcement officers, one second-degree arson charge, an attempted first-degree murder with weapon charge and two charges of shooting into a building.
Polk sheriff’s officials think suspect Bryan Riley believed 11-year-old girl was ‘Amber’
According to the affidavit, sheriff’s officials think Riley had already shot Gleason, Lanham and the baby in the first home, then ordered the 11-year-old girl, who had called 911, to move because he believed she was Amber. When she told him she wasn’t Amber, and couldn’t tell the gunman where Amber was, he shot her multiple times.
As of Tuesday morning, the Sheriffs Office said the 11-year-old victim is stable. She was flown to Tampa General Hospital on Sunday. She is a student at Lake Gibson Middle School.
“Lake Gibson Middle does have counselors available today for students and staff members,” Polk County Public Schools Director of Communications Jason Geary said Tuesday. “And they will be available for as long as they are needed.”
Justice Gleason ‘was a great dad’ to 4-year-old daughter
Miranda Watson, who is a longtime friend of the victims, said the love Lanham and Gleason had for each other was amazing.
“They would give you the shirt off their back if they could,” Watson said. “Always smiling and so happy.”
Watson said she has been friends with Gleason for about 10 years. She is also the mother of Gleason’s 4-year-old daughter, Olivia, who hasn’t had a chance to grow close to her father because she lives in Panama City.
“He was a great dad,” Watson said. “She’s just like him. She has his smile, she has his eyes.”
Olivia loves to sing and play guitar like Gleason did and has his upbeat personality, Watson said. She said Gleason played the guitar for fun but played very well.
“He was a big part of my kids’ lives when I left their dad,” Watson said. “He would play with them all the time, he used to draw tattoos on my boys, when we’d go to the beach, he’d go out there and help them find shells and stuff like that.”
She said she has five children and her 14-year-old daughter is taking Gleason’s death hard because she grew up with him as her father figure.
Watson’s sister, Tiffany Watson, said Gleason was the type of person who would give someone in need his last dollar.
“Him and his little family did not deserve this,” she said. “And what is really sad is, my niece will never really know her or her little half-brother.”
Sheriff Judd: 11-year-old girl who survived shooting played dead, prayed
Sheriff Judd: Child pretended to be dead to survive
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said an 11-year-old girl pretended to be dead in order to survive a shooting in Lakeland that killed four people, including a mother and her infant.
LAKELAND, Fla. – Investigators, including Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, were at the home in Lakeland where four people, including a baby, were murdered early Sunday morning.
Investigators are looking for every piece of evidence in the case.
An 11-year-old girl is the only person to survive the shooting.
Sheriff Judd said the girl told investigators she played dead and prayed.
Sheriff Judd said the suspect, Bryan Riley, shot the girl several times in the legs before a deputy ran into the home to save her.
“Despite us fearing there were booby traps, our Sgt. Graham rushed into the house when he heard there was someone in there, scooped her up and ran out with her, and she said, ‘the other three are dead,’” Sheriff Judd said.
Miguel Rivera lives next door to the home and said he believes the shooter knocked on his door just minutes before going after the victims.
“I looked through the blinds and saw nothing,” he said. “I just sat down again to see if he would knock again to see who was knocking at that time. Ten minutes after is when I heard the gunshots.”
The sheriff said the 11-year-old girl is expected to make a full recovery.
He expects investigators to be at the scene for a fourth day on Wednesday.
Florida Marine charged with murder. Advocates say vets need help
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It was the kind of story so shocking and gruesome that it makes your head spin and your soul search for answers.
Police say a Marine who completed two tours in the Middle East murdered a Lakeland family he didn’t even know — including a mother and her 4-month-old baby — after saying that God had started giving him orders.
Bryan Riley, a U.S. Marine veteran accused of killing four people near Lakeland is being held in Polk County jail without bond, online records showed Monday.
Sheriff Grady Judd chalked it up to “evil.”
“He’s evil in the flesh,” Judd said of accused killer, Cpl. Bryan Riley, going on to say that he wished Riley hadn’t surrendered so that his deputies could’ve unloaded enough rounds to “read a newspaper through him.”
I guess that’s one regret you could take away from this horror.
But instead of wishing that someone had killed this guy after he allegedly killed others, I wish someone could’ve helped this veteran before he hurt anyone.
So does Neftali “Nef” Rodriguez, CEO of the Camaraderie Foundation, the Orlando nonprofit dedicated to helping soldiers struggling with inner demons. “The guy needed help,” said Rodriguez.
We don’t know this guy’s full story yet. But we know we haven’t done enough to help veterans with PTSD and other mental health issues. It is one of this nation’s great shames.
The cost of war is often measured in the billions of dollars spent and the lives lost on battlefields. But a grim reality often ignored is that many soldiers come home with scars that only their family members see.
And Rodriguez is convinced it’s about to get worse now that we’re bringing troops back from Afghanistan with the mission incomplete and some soldiers feeling like failures after doing the job they were told to do.
“Our mission is really just ramping up,” he said. “Because all these kids are coming home … and these guys went from 20 years of being recognized and celebrated to being told they surrendered and quit. They went straight from hero to zero.”
It’s similar to what Rodriguez said he experienced when he returned from Vietnam and part of why he has dedicated his life to helping fellow soldiers.
I’ve had a deep admiration for the Camaraderie Foundation ever since it was founded in 2009 with a goal of helping any service members anywhere at any time.
While the VA does some amazing work (my wife works there), it’s also a giant bureaucracy that’s not always good at responding to spur-of-the-moment needs, especially for vets who aren’t already in the system.
That’s what the Camaraderie Foundation does, responding at any hour to anyone who needs it. To a soldier who just tried to kill himself in front of his children. To a veteran’s family that moved to Florida and ended up homeless.
Those are real-life stories — the kind politicians eager to wage war often overlook.
Unfortunately, the Camaraderie Foundation is suffering too. During the pandemic, donations dwindled. A staff of nine is now down to four.
“We’re treading water like always,” Rodriguez said. “But whatever it takes, we’re going to do it for the veterans.”
Rodriguez doesn’t know what happened last weekend in Lakeland and cautioned others about making armchair diagnoses. But Rodriguez is certain Riley needed help. It’s hard to disagree.
Sheriff Judd said Riley had “zero connection” to the people he killed — a couple and their infant child, as well as the baby’s 62-year-old grandmother who Judd said was hiding in the closet. Riley also shot an 11-year-old girl, who survived, and the family’s dog.
The Lakeland Ledger reported that when Riley first showed up at the family’s home and started talking about how God had sent him to these strangers’ house, they threatened to call the police — to which Riley responded: “You don’t need to call the cops because I’m the cops for God.”
Riley’s girlfriend described a man who seemed depressed but had never been violent.
That last part is important. Most people suffering from mental illness are more likely to be victims of crimes than to perpetrate one.
So, yeah, I get the desire for swift justice and conclusions. (Gov. Ron DeSantis declared: “This guy was totally off his rocker and needs to have the full weight of the law brought down.”)
But I hope this community and country takes a moment to think more about what we are doing to help the men and women we send off to war.
Because most people don’t just wake up one morning and decide they want to start killing others.
Even Judd seemed to recognize that, saying: “This guy, prior to this morning, was a war hero — he fought for his country in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was a decorated veteran, and this morning he was a cold, calculated murderer.”
So let’s do better at finding out how that happens — and preventing it.
Substance abuse can play a role. Riley said he was using methamphetamines. And when Judd wasn’t talking about how Riley was an evil guy whom he wished his deputies had blown away, Judd acknowledged this country’s lack of mental health services and support.
Rodriguez, who started as a private in the Army in 1974 and finished more than three decades later as a lieutenant colonel, is as committed as ever to providing that support. “This is my life’s mission,” he said. “It’s as important a mission for me as it was when I went into the service.”
11-year-old survived Lakeland massacre by playing dead, investigators say
LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) — The sole survivor of the holiday massacre in north Lakeland told investigators she survived the attack by playing dead after being shot multiple times by a gunman, according to authorities.
The 11-year-old girl was rushed to Tampa General Hospital, where she was stabilized and is expected to survive.
“She did tell some of her relatives who told us, how did she survive, she said I played dead and I prayed,” Sheriff Grady Judd said.
Bryan Riley, 33, is the suspected shooter, accused of gunning down and killing a family of four, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, before opening fire on responding deputies.
No deputies were seriously hurt in the incident, authorities said, and the suspect surrendered after being wounded.
“He went there on a mission to kill all of those wonderful people, and he killed all but one,” Sheriff Judd said.
Riley, 33, is being held without bond on four counts of first-degree murder. During his first court appearance Monday, he said he intended to hire a lawyer, but a public defender was appointed to represent him until he does.
According to Judd and court records, on Saturday evening, about nine hours before the attack, Riley stopped his truck and confronted one of the victims as he mowed his lawn. Riley, who lives 30 miles away in Brandon, told the victim that God had sent him to prevent a suicide by someone named Amber.
The victims told Riley no one by that name lived there and asked him to leave. They called 911, but when authorities arrived, Riley was gone.
A deputy searched the area, but didn’t find Riley. Judd said given the circumstances, there wasn’t much more that could be done.
“He didn’t threaten violence, he never said I’m going to come back and shoot and do this and that,” Sheriff Judd said. “He confessed later and told us, you know, he made me really mad, so I went home and created an opps plan, and you know what that means, if you create an opps plan you have to kill everybody.”
Riley returned around 4:30 a.m. Sunday, arranging glowsticks to create a path leading to the house in what Judd said may have been an attempt to draw officers “into an ambush.”
When a deputy in the area heard popping noises, he sounded the alarm, bringing state and local law enforcement officers to the scene. When they arrived, they found an apparently unarmed Riley outside, dressed in camouflage, and his truck on fire.
Riley ran back into the house and authorities heard more gunfire, and “a woman scream and a baby whimper,” Judd said.
Officers tried to enter the house, but the front door was barricaded. Judd said when they went to the back, they saw Riley, who appeared to have donned full body armor.
Riley and the officers exchanged heavy gunfire, with dozens “if not hundreds of rounds” fired, before Riley retreated back into the home, Judd said.
Everything went silent, until a helicopter unit noticed that Riley was coming out, the sheriff said. He had been shot once and was ready to surrender.
Officers heard cries for help inside but were unsure whether there were additional shooters and feared the home was booby-trapped. Still, one officer rushed in and grabbed the wounded girl, who told authorities there were three dead people inside.
The sheriff’s office said they all had been huddling in fear, with the boy dying in his mother’s arms. Even the family dog was shot dead.
“I will never be able to unsee that mother with that deceased infant in her arms,” Judd said. “It is a horror of the utmost magnitude.”
Judd identified Justice Gleason, 40, as one of the victims. Citing a state privacy law, Judd only identified the other victims as a 33-year-old woman, her infant son and the boy’s 62-year-old grandmother.
Facebook posts and public records show Gleason was in a relationship with Theresa Lanham and they had a baby boy, Jody, in May. Lanham’s mother, Catherine Delgado, owned the property and lived there.
Gleason also had an 11-year-old daughter from a previous relationship.
Authorities said Riley’s girlfriend told investigators he was never violent but had become increasingly erratic. She said he claimed to be on mission from God, stockpiling supplies for Hurricane Ida victims including $1,000 worth of cigars.
Riley’s vehicle had also been stocked with bleeding control kits and other supplies for a gunfight, authorities said.
He worked as a private security guard and had no criminal history, the sheriff said.
Officers took Riley to jail in a white jumpsuit later Sunday. He appeared downcast, hanging his head and hardly opening his eyes, as reporters asked why he killed the family.
“This guy was a war hero. He fought for his country,” Judd said. Now, ”he’s a cold-blooded killer.”
Riley told detectives he shot people on this property because ‘God told him to.’ He called himself a ‘sick guy’ and said he wanted to go to jail.
Sheriff Grady Judd said Riley served in the U.S. Marines Corps and was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan before being honorably discharged.
The sheriff said Riley’s girlfriend told investigators he suffers from PTSD, and recently claimed he could talk directly with God.
“My prayers are that an event like this never happens anywhere in the world again,” Sheriff Judd said.
Judd told us Riley’s girlfriend believed his behavior had become increasingly erratic.
She said he was a security guard at a church and came home saying he could talk to god.
Riley is being held in jail without bond.