A former Marine sharpshooter, who served in Afghanistan, shot and killed four people, including a baby being cradled in its mother’s arms, at two homes in Lakeland, Florida before engaging in a gun battle with police.
Authorities have named the suspected gunman as former Marine, 33-year-old Bryan Riley.
Riley surrendered after being injured during the shootout – where hundreds of rounds were said to have been fired – but he attempted to grab an officer’s gun while being treated in hospital, according to authorities.
An 11-year-old girl was found inside a home in Lakeland suffering from gunshot wounds.
Also inside the house were the bodies of 40-year-old Justin Gleason, as well as a 33-year-old woman, who was holding her deceased three-month-old baby.
The infant’s 62-year-old grandmother, who lived at a neighbouring property, was also killed. The relationship between Mr Gleason and the others has not been disclosed.
Authorities were originally called to the first house around 7.30pm on Saturday, nine hours before the shooting.
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According to Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, Mr Gleason was out mowing his lawn when Riley drove by, saying God told him to stop because Mr Gleason’s daughter was going to commit suicide.
A second person came to confront Riley, telling him that story wasn’t true and warning they would call the police if he didn’t leave, Sheriff Judd told a news conference.
The police were called and a sheriff’s deputy arrived within six minutes but could not find Riley or his vehicle.
Then at about 4.30am on Sunday, Riley returned to the home. He laid out glowsticks to create a path leading to the house to draw officers “into an ambush,” Sheriff Judd said.
By chance, an officer nearby heard popping noises and all law enforcement in the area was sent to the scene.
Authorities arrived at the home and found Riley’s white truck ablaze and an unarmed Riley outside, dressed in camouflage.
Riley immediately ran inside, where authorities heard another round of gunfire, “a woman scream and a baby whimper,” according to Sheriff Judd.
“Our lieutenant tried to make entry into the front of the house and it was barricaded,” he said.
The lieutenant ran around the back and got into a gun battle with the suspect, who was wearing full body armour, including a bulletproof vest: “As if he was ready to engage us all in an active shooter situation”, Sheriff Judd said.
He added that three deputies at the front of the house were pinned down by gunfire from the suspect, and other agents at the scene opened fire to help the deputies get to safety.
Dozens “if not hundreds of rounds” were exchanged, he said.
Riley eventually came out with his hands up, after being shot once, and was taken into custody.
A brave sergeant rushed in and grabbed the 11-year-old girl who had been shot at least seven times.
When it was clear, they found the unidentified mother and baby, Mr Gleason and the family dog all dead from gunshot wounds.
Sheriff Judd told the news conference Riley had apparently targeted the family at random and appeared to be suffering from mental health issues that had been worsening for weeks.
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“He says at one point to our detectives, ‘They begged for their lives, and I killed them anyway,'” Sheriff Judd said. “He’s evil in the flesh. He was a rabid animal.”
He said Riley, who served as a sharpshooter in both Iraq and Afghanistan, has repeatedly told his girlfriend that he could communicate directly with God.
She told officers Riley was never violent but suffered from PTSD and had become increasingly erratic.
She added that he’d spent the previous week on a mission from God stockpiling supplies for Hurricane Ida victims, including $1,000 worth of cigars.
Riley, who had no criminal history, also told authorities he was on methamphetamines. His vehicle had also been stocked with supplies for a gunfight, authorities said, including bleeding control kits.
The 11-year-old girl was treated in a Tampa hospital. Mr Judd said authorities were still searching for another young girl, “about 10 or 11 years old”.
No police officers were injured in the shootout.