Fla. sheriff calls killer vet with PTSD ‘a coward’ for surrendering, wishes cops could have ‘shot him up’

Polk County, Fla., Sheriff Grady Judd told reporters on Sunday that a former Marine sharpshooter who is accused of randomly killing four people is “a coward” after surrendering to deputies unarmed, suggesting confidently that his officers would have easily won a gunfight if it came down to it.

“It would have been nice if he would have come out with a gun,” Judd said during a news conference, according to reports. “We would have shot him up a lot. But he didn’t because he was a coward. When someone chooses to give up, we take them into custody peacefully.”

Bryan Riley, 33, who served four years on active duty and was deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan, is accused of killing 40-year-old Justice Gleason, a 33-year-old woman, and a 3-month-old boy, along with a 62-year-old woman who is thought to have been the baby’s grandmother. An 11-year-old girl was shot multiple times but survived and a dog belonging to the family was also shot and killed, police said.

Riley initially engaged police in a gun battle but surrendered shortly afterward and came out of a home where the murders occurred with his hands up. Reports also noted that at one point while on a hospital gurney, Riley attempted to grab a sidearm from a deputy. He also reportedly told officers that his victims “begged for their lives,” but he “killed them anyway.”

He “is charged with four counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted first-degree murder, seven counts of attempted first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer, two counts of shooting into a building, one count of second-degree arson and two counts of armed burglary with assault/battery,” Fox News reported.


(Video: NBC News)

Ahead of the murders, Riley caused some suspicion when he was seen Saturday evening in Lakeland, where the shootings occurred. He returned to the same block on Sunday and placed glowsticks leading to the home where the murders took place as a means of drawing officers “into an ambush,” according to Judd.

After a nearby police officer heard gunshots, a large law enforcement response ensued, according to reports. After officers arrived, they spotted Riley outside the home dressed in camouflage clothing before he ran back inside. Police on the scene heard more gunshots as well as a”woman scream and a baby whimper.”

Reports said that officers tried to enter through the front of the residence, but they encountered a barricade. Other officers attempted to gain entry from the back, but they ran into Riley, who by then had donned full body armor.

He and officers exchanged heavy gunfire, with “if not hundreds of rounds” flying back and forth before the suspect retreated into the home.

Afterward, police heard people crying out for help inside the residence, but they were uncertain whether there was more than one shooter and thought that the home could be booby-trapped. However, “a brave sergeant rushed in” and rescued an 11-year-old girl who was shot at least a half-dozen times, Fox News reported.

The girl told deputies after being rescued that other people were dead inside the home, according to Judd, who added that she was quickly transported to a nearby hospital where she underwent surgery for her wounds and is expected to survive them.

Police refused to tell reporters how many times victims had been shot or where inside the home they were found. However, they did say that all of the victims were fearfully trying to hide by huddling together.

The suspect’s girlfriend said Riley suffered from PTSD but that he was never violent and that she was shocked at what had happened. She did say, however, that he had become more and more erratic in recent months.

Over the past week, she said, Riley told her he was talking with God and began stockpiling supplies he claimed were intended for the victims of Hurricane Ida — a mother lode that included $1,000 worth of cigars.

He also told police that he was high on methamphetamine during the attacks.

“It was an evil, evil, evil act by a very well-trained military person who knew better and still did it,” Judd said in an interview with Fox News.

“What makes it so gut-wrenching is that these innocent people died, and they were randomly picked out. This wasn’t a fight that went bad; this wasn’t a disturbance that escalated,” Judd added.

“When you see a 3-month-old, little, beautiful baby boy deceased in the arms of his mother, where she’s trying to protect him, and she’s murdered, he’s murdered, and his daddy’s murdered — that’s pretty rough,” he said.

Jon Dougherty

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