Marine veteran randomly targeted family in shooting that left 4 dead, including infant, police say
Miguel Rivera, 50, said he was awakened at 4 a.m. Sunday by someone banging on his back sliding glass door.
“I was kind of scared — I was thinking, ‘Who could be knocking on my glass door?’” Rivera said. “I just didn’t open the door. I stood there waiting to see if they would knock again.”
About 20 minutes later, he heard gunshots coming from behind his home. He called 911.
Once Polk County sheriff’s deputies arrived several minutes later, a shootout began.
What Rivera heard was a man police say was 33-year-old Bryan James Riley, a U.S. Marine veteran, breaking into the home across a wooded lot and randomly killing four members of the same family — Justice Gleason, 40, his girlfriend Theresa Lanham, 33, the couple’s 3-month-old son, and Lanham’s mother, 62-year-old Cathy Delgado.
Delgado was found in a small home behind the main house. Gleason and Lanham were found in the main house, with Lanham holding the baby.
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office released Gleason’s name. The Ledger, part of the USA TODAY Network, confirmed the names of Lanham and her mother through Facebook.
Riley, who served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, is charged with four counts of first degree murder, one count of attempted murder and seven counts of attempted murder on a law enforcement officer. According to affidavit, he admitted everything to investigators and said he didn’t know the victims.
A judge ruled Monday he will be held without bail.
Meanwhile, investigators on Monday were still gathering evidence inside and outside the home. Riley’s truck, which was on fire when police arrived early Sunday, remained to the left side of the single-story, white cinder-block house. Belongings that appeared to have been gathered from the carport and front porch, including a bench and chairs, were still piled in front of the front door.
Investigators say Riley also shot Lanham’s 11-year-old daughter multiple times. She was rushed to Tampa General Hospital for surgery, where she was in critical but stable condition Monday, sheriff’s officials said.
According to the arrest affidavit, the girl told investigators that Riley entered their home and asked for “Amber,” and then shot everyone inside, including the family’s shepherd Diogi.
Suspect had no connection to family, authorities say
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said Sunday that Riley had “zero connection” to the family and that Riley told investigators that he chose the family because God told him a girl at the house named Amber was going to kill herself.
It began with an incident Saturday evening, when Riley spotted Gleason mowing his yard, pulled up in his truck, and told Gleason that God wanted him to speak to Amber. Judd said that Gleason told Riley an Amber did not live at the house and that he’d call police if Riley didn’t leave.
The family called 911, and Judd said a deputy spent about 20 minutes looking for Riley, but he was gone.
Judd said that Riley then went to his home in Brandon, Florida, and told his fiancée that God was telling him to “talk to Amber.” The fiancée told investigators that Riley had been talking about having conversations with God for the previous week after working security at an Orlando church.
His fiancée said they had an argument and he locked himself in a room. When she woke up, he was gone.
Judd said the fiancée, whose name was not released, is cooperating with investigators.
Riley returned to the home in the early morning hours Sunday and the first 911 calls started coming in at 4:23 a.m., with neighbors telling emergency operators that there had been a shooting.
A neighbor’s backyard security camera picked up the moment gunfire is first heard.
Lt. Duane Tompkins, a 17-year veteran with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, arrived at the house first and found the suspect’s truck on fire. Glow sticks lined the path from the road to the house and to another home behind the main residence. Tompkins heard popping sounds coming from the truck and then saw a figure in the front yard, wearing camouflage.
He “looked as if he was ready to engage us all in an active shooter situation, but we didn’t see a firearm,” Judd said. “…It appeared that he had bullet proof vests on and he immediately ran back into this house. We didn’t know who he was.”
Tompkins then “heard another volley and a woman scream and a baby whimper,” Judd said. According to the arrest affidavit, that is when Riley shot Gleason, Lanham, the baby and the 11-year-old.
The front door was blocked so Tompkins ran to the back of the home. That’s when the suspect shot at Tompkins, who returned fire and backed out of the house, Judd said.
According to the affidavit, Riley then went into a second residence on the property and shot Delgado, whom he found hiding in a closet.
After, the gunman began firing into the front yard, pinning down three deputies outside, Judd said. A Lakeland police officer provided cover so the deputies could escape.
Finally, the gunfire stopped.
Deputies in the sheriff’s helicopter, circling overhead, saw a man come out with his hands raised. He was handcuffed and taken to a nearby high school where an ambulance was waiting. Riley had been shot once.
After Riley was arrested, Sgt. Tyrees Graham heard the 11-year-old girl calling for help and he rushed inside to get her before.
Friends mourn loss of the family
Gleason and Lanham first noted their relationship with a photo on Facebook in March 2020. He has his arm around her shoulder and she is embracing him and kissing his cheek. He is smiling from ear to ear.
More photos of the happy couple followed. Then in April 2021, the couple held up a onesie at a baby shower. Their daughter was born a month later.
Friends were leaving heartbroken messages to the family on Facebook by Sunday afternoon.
“May you and your beautiful wife Theresa and baby rest in peace with our Lord. You will be missed!” Carolyn Chistian wrote. “You were such a good man and friend to everyone. Praying God comforts your family and everyone that knew you all.”
Pansy Mincey Smith told The Ledger that she had gone to school with Gleason’s father, Joe, who died several years ago.
“RIP Justice Gleason. The last time I saw you, you were getting on the elevator at the hospital,” Smith wrote on Facebook. “You were smiling from ear to ear about your new little baby boy, you had that big teddybear for him. This is so heartbreaking, son.”
State Attorney Brian Haas was on hand for two press conferences Sunday, noting that the family and the community are victims of this shooting.
“The big question I have on my mind is, why,” Haas said. “It’s so frustrating that we will not know the why today — maybe ever.”