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Ex-Marine sharpshooter accused of killing 4 was searching for a non-existent girl who he believed needed help, sheriff says

By Gregory Lemos and Amir Vera, CNN

The ex-Marine accused of killing four people, including an infant, outside Lakeland, Florida, was looking for a little girl he believed was suicidal and being sex trafficked, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd told reporters Thursday.

Bryan Riley, 33, admitted to deputies that he shot several people Sunday morning and “stated voices and ‘God’ told him to do it,” according to the criminal affidavit. He told his girlfriend that God told him to intervene and prevent the suicide of a girl named “Amber,” according to the affidavit.

During a news conference on Thursday, Judd said this allegation was patently false, saying there were no victims of sex crimes in the house.

Riley went before Judge Heather Beato on Monday, who ordered him held without bond on four murder counts, according to the 10th Circuit Trial Court Administrator Nick Sudzina. Riley was appointed a public defender and will be held in Polk County Jail, according to Sudzina.

CNN has reached out to the public defender’s office several times this week and has yet to hear back.

Riley confronted the neighbors about ‘Amber’ prior to the shooting

The timeline of events began on Saturday, Judd said, when Riley stopped by a friend’s house to pick up a first-aid kit and said he was planning to go help with Hurricane Ida relief assistance. According to Judd, Riley left his friend’s house, who lived in the area of the crime scene, around 7:10 p.m.

Riley told investigators he came upon Justice Gleason, who was mowing his lawn and told him, “Hey, God said that I need to talk to Amber because she’s going to commit suicide,” according to Judd.

After Gleason told Riley no one by the name of Amber lived at his house, the grandmother emerged, threatening to call the police, and Riley departed “very angry,” Judd said.

An 11-year-old girl, who was wounded but not killed in the shooting, was also in the yard with Gleason, Judd said.

“Now we know (…) that when our suspect left, Riley, he was very angry. He was very angry at Justice because he thought Justice had kept him from seeing this child Amber who was going to commit suicide,” Judd said.

Riley told investigators it was at this point, “God told me to kill everyone and to rescue Amber because she’s a victim of sex trafficking,” Judd said.

11-year-old played dead during the shooting

After the confrontation, Riley went home and, according to Judd, proceeded to argue with his girlfriend about whether or not he could in fact talk to and hear from God directly, “but never mentioned violence.”

Judd said video from Riley’s neighborhood shows him leaving his house around 1:00am in his F-150 truck with a large shoulder bag. Riley told police he returned to the scene to do “reconnaissance outside of the house in the moonlight.”

After inspecting the property, Riley slashed the tires on two vehicles outside the home and set one on fire. He then set out the glow sticks throughout the property, according to Judd.

“He explained that those were so he could find his way out in an emergency at night and so if he found Amber, she could find her way to escape from this house where she was a sex crime victim. This is all fiction. All made up by him,” Judd said, adding, “There was no victims of sex crime in that house.”

Riley first broke into the grandmother’s apartment by shooting through a window and eventually killing her, Judd said.

Riley then allegedly broke into the main house by shooting out the back door. He shot the family dog twice in the bedroom before fatally shooting Gleason, his 33-year-old partner and their 3-month old baby, all three of whom were hiding in the bathroom, according to the sheriff.

Riley found the 11-year-old hiding between the cabinet and the toilet and shot her multiple times after demanding to know where “Amber” was, according to Judd.

Riley told deputies “I tortured her in order to investigate, in order to find Amber” and said when she couldn’t tell him where she was, “I eliminated her,” Judd said.

The 11-year-old then “played dead and prayed,” according to Judd. “And that’s the reason she’s alive today,” he said. The child sustained seven gunshot wounds and has undergone four surgeries, according to Judd.

“We don’t know if it’s seven separate shots or if it’s a total of seven holes and some of them may be in-and-out-shots,” Judd said.

When deputies arrived on scene, a series of shootouts ensued during which Riley sustained a wound to the abdomen. Riley eventually removed his armor, put down his three weapons, and surrendered to authorities, Judd said.

In all, Judd said five deputies and one Lakeland police officer fired their weapons approximately 59 times. Riley, he said, shot more than 100 times “and we’re still counting.”

Judd said Riley then “confessed to the horrible tragedy that he did on a Sunday morning,” eventually admitting on the way to the hospital that he had taken meth. Judd said authorities have found evidence of illegal steroid use as well.

Judd said the crime scene, which he called “the most extensive single crime scene that we have worked that I can remember,” is still being processed.

Riley’s girlfriend told authorities the ex-Marine had no history of violence and reported “no bizarre behavior” until days before the shooting. According to Judd, the girlfriend said Riley began acting oddly after he worked security at a church and “came back with this infatuation about being able to speak directly to God” and that God talked back.

Judd said at this point, Riley has shown no signs of remorse.

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