The sole survivor of the Polk County family massacre says that the gunman killed her family because he falsely believed they were “sex traffickers,” and kidnapped a girl named “Amber.”
The incident occurred Sunday at the family’s home.
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33-year-old Bryan Riley a former marine, shot and killed the child’s father 40-year-old Justice Gleason, her stepmother 33-year-old Theresa Lanham, Lanham’s infant child, and Lanham’s mother.
According to the report, Riley arrived to the family’s home and broke in to the grandmother’s apartment and killed her first. He then went into the main house and began searching for “Amber.” During his search for Amber, he discovered the family hiding in a bathroom. Gleason attempted to hold the door closed, however, Riley shot through the door. Once inside, he fatally shot Gleason and then the infant in his mother’s arm and the mother.
He then pulled the 11-year-old from the bathroom and led her to the living room while calling her Amber. When she told him she was not Amber and that no one in the home was named Amber, Riley allegedly began integrating the child on the whereabouts of Amber. At some point during the ordeal, Riley began counting down and then shot the girl.
“[Riley] counted down three, two, one and he shot her in the thigh area,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd told reporters he learned from the police interview. “… This evil human being told us, ‘I tortured her … to investigate in order to find Amber.”
Riley reportedly shot the girl several more times before saying “Do you know why I killed your parents? They’re sex traffickers,” according to Judd.
“The suspect told us, ‘I asked God if a 12-year-old could be involved in sex trafficking, and God told me yes, and that’s when I killed her,’” Judd said.
Little did Riley know, the 11-year-old who he integrated and tortured was not dead:
“This 11-year-old was very brave, very smart and she out-thought him,” Judd said at a news conference. “”She said, ‘I played dead and I prayed.’”
Authorities engaged Riley in a hours shoot out before Riley finally surrendered and authorities were able to rescue the 11-year-old.
The child was shot in the hand, legs, thigh and abdominal cavity and has undergone four surgeries and is listed in stable condition.
Authorities reported that Riley had no connection to the family, however, about 9 hours before he launched an attack against them, he was driving back from picking up hurricane supplies for Hurricane Ida victims and noticed the father and the 11-year-old outside mowing the grass. Riley then stopped his truck and began questioning them about someone named Amber.
“God said that I need to talk to Amber because she’s going to commit suicide,” Riley told Gleason, according to the sheriff. “Justice said, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no one here by the name of Amber.’”
Riley then told the family that he would not leave until they released Amber. That’s when Gleason threatened to call the police which scared Riley off.
“[Riley] was very angry at Justice because he thought Justice had kept him from seeing this child, Amber, that was going to commit suicide,” the sheriff said. “And that’s when [Riley] said … ‘God told me to kill everyone and to rescue Amber because she’s a victim of sex trafficking.’”
The suspect then arrived back to his home and Brandon and began arguing with his girlfriend who would not confirm his beliefs that he could speak directly to God and that’s when he began planning the attack on the family.
Riley’s girlfriend told authorities that he had been acting strangely for a couple of weeks after working a security detail at an Orlando church and that it was increasingly getting worse.
Riley has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder and is currently being held in jail without bond.
“He is evil in the flesh,” Judd said. “Just because you have mental health issues, does not mean you are not criminally liable.”