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'I Played Dead And I Prayed:' Marine Allegedly Tortured Child, Killed Family Over Sex-Trafficking Delusion

Bryan Riley has been accused of gunning down four members of a Lakeland family and torturing an 11-year-old girl he shot seven times while seeking to save a girl named "Amber." 

By Dorian Geiger
Veteran Accused Of Slaughtering Family In Their Home

The suspect accused of murdering four members of a Florida family and torturing an 11-year-old girl carried out the attack over Labor Day weekend because he was convinced they were sex traffickers, authorities said this week.

Bryan Riley, 33, has been accused of gunning down four members of a Lakeland family. The Marine had “zero remorse,” authorities said as they shed new light on the case at a press conference on Thursday. 

Justice Gleason, 40, Theresa Lanham, 33, their 3-month old son, Jody, and Lanham’s mother, 62-year-old Catherine Delgado were killed in the September 5 mass murder. 

"There aren’t words to describe the rage that we feel about what he did to this totally innocent family who was simply sleeping in their home,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said.

Judd also said that new witnesses have helped investigators piece together a more concrete timeline of the incidents leading up to the gruesome mass killing. 

On September 4, an individual who attended the same church as the suspect told investigators that Riley had stopped by his home to retrieve a first aid kit for Hurricane Ida victims around 7 p.m. Minutes later, he encountered Gleason while the father was mowing his lawn.

Riley approached Gleason and informed him God sent him to speak to his daughter, "Amber," because she intended to commit suicide. Gleason informed him no one by that name lived there. 

"Hey mister, we don’t know who you are, but we can assure you no Amber is here," Judd said.

Riley departed after the family threatened to dial 911. Before he left, he told them, “‘I am the cops for God,’” according to Judd. 

"Never did Bryan Riley make a threat," the Polk County Sheriff explained. "Just a bizarre, irrational statement but no threats of violence." 

Law enforcement later responded but was unable to locate Riley. Authorities said that Riley had "zero connection" to the victims. 

Hours later, gunfire erupted at the property. Police later found Riley, clad in camouflage, outside the home. A truck had been set on fire outside the property. At that point, he ran into the house, where another series of shots were heard. 

Riley later re-emerged outside the residence wearing body armor and was grazed when shot by police. He then retreated inside, where he momentarily returned fire. Investigators entered the home and took him into custody. He was later treated at a local hospital for a bullet wound. 

Detectives discovered Lanham dead inside the home cradling her 3-month-old son. Gleason, Delgado, and the family’s dog, Diogi, were also found dead.

After entering the home, authorities said Riley embarked on a methodical search for "Amber." After gunning down the four residents, Riley taunted and tortured an 11-year-old girl about “Amber,” police said.  

"You know why I killed your parents? Riley asked her. “‘They’re sex traffickers...I shot her in legs, then when she wouldn’t tell me where Amber was, I killed her."

The girl, who was shot in the stomach and thigh while being tortured, survived the horrifying ordeal.

“I played dead and I prayed,” she told investigators, according to Judd.

The motive in the case is unclear. Police said they suspect Riley forcibly entered the home and opened fire because he was under the mistaken belief the family may have been connected to a sex-trafficking ring.

"God told me to kill everyone and to rescue Amber because she’s a victim of sex trafficking,” Judd stated, recounting Riley’s confession to detectives.

"He was seeking out Amber, who wanted to commit suicide, who was a victim of sex trafficking and it was all a figment of his imagination," Judd added. "All fiction, all made up by him. There were no victims of sex crime in that house." 

Riley's girlfriend also disclosed to investigators how his behavior had become increasingly bizarre in recent weeks — and that he’d come under the delusion he could speak to God.

When asked why he opened fire on the 3-month-old infant, Riley replied, "because I'm a sick guy."

Riley is facing 17 charges in connection to the quadruple slaying. He appeared in court on Sept. 10 for a motion hearing. 

A virtual candle-lit vigil was held for the family on September 8. Officials have since asked the public to donate to the family to help cover costs associated with the tragedy.

“Now in a blink of an eye, there are funerals to pay for, there are hospital bills, and other associated costs that this family didn’t even expect,” Judd added. “Other family members are rushing to their aid. It’s total devastation.”

Riley hasn’t issued a plea. His arraignment is scheduled for Bartow Courthouse on Oct. 12. He is being held without bond at a Polk County detention center, according to online jail records.

 Howard L. Dimmig II, his public defender, didn’t immediately respond to Oxygen.com’s request for comment on Friday.

During his military career, Riley was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

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