Ex-Marine Killed Family Because ‘God Told Him’ to Save Imaginary Child

Bryan Riley, 33, who confessed to killing four (including a baby) and torturing a young girl in Lakeland, Florida, told police he believed he was saving a child that was being sexually trafficked by the family.
A man who slaughtered four people and tortured an 11-year-old girl by shooting her seven times was in the midst of a delusion about sex trafficking, police say.
Bryan Riley's mugshot. Photo via Polk County Sheriff Department

A man who slaughtered four people from the same family and tortured an 11-year-old girl by shooting her seven times was in the midst of a delusion about sex trafficking, police say. 

Bryan Riley, 33, a marine veteran, confessed to killing 40-year-old Justice Gleason; his partner, Theresa Lanham, 33; their 3-month-old son; and Lanham’s 62-year-old mother, Cathy Delgado, in their Lakeland, Florida, home early Sunday morning, said the Polk County Sheriff Department. Police say Riley confessed to staking out the home of the people he had no prior relationship with, then entered it a few hours later in full body armour with multiple firearms. According to Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, while he was in the home Riley was looking for “Amber,” a girl he believed was being sex trafficked out of the home. 


“This is all fiction, all made up by him,” Judd told reporters on Thursday. “Understand when we make those references, there were no victims of sex crimes in that house.”

Riley told police he first entered a smaller home on the property, occupied by Delgado, and upon finding her, shot an entire magazine of ammunition into her. 

Riley told police he then entered the main house, killed the family dog, and went to the bathroom door, which Gleason was trying to hold shut. Police said Riley admitted to shooting through the door until he could get it open. He then entered the washroom and found Gleason, Lanham, who was holding their baby in her arms, and their 11-year-old daughter huddled together. Riley said he then shot and killed the couple and the baby.

“That’s when he grabbed the 11-year-old victim, took her from the bathroom into the living room. And he asks her, ‘Where’s Amber?’” explained Judd. “She said, ‘I’m not Amber. There is no Amber.’ And he said, ‘I want to know who Amber is,’ and he counted down, ‘3, 2, 1,’ pow—and he shot her.”

“This evil human being told us, ‘I tortured her in order to investigate and to find Amber,’” Judd said. 

Riley continued to shoot at the girl when she wouldn’t give a satisfactory answer, telling police he believed she was also involved with sex trafficking and God told him it was OK to shoot her. 

After being shot seven times, police said the girl played dead, and Riley moved on. Miraculously she survived. 


Police arrived at the home shortly after and entered into a series of shootouts with the man. He was shot in the stomach, and upon retreating to the nursery realized he was outmanned and turned himself in. Police said Riley confessed to the crimes in the hospital. 

Judd said Riley had “no remorse” for the actions. 

In a news conference from Thursday outlining why the victims were chosen, Judd called Riley “evil in the flesh.” He said the alleged killer told authorities the victims “begged for their lives, and I killed them anyway.” 

Judd said there was no prior relationship between the alleged killer and the victims, and a chance encounter was what resulted in Riley choosing to target them.

The evening before the early morning killings, Riley was planning on going and helping out with Hurricane Ida, so went to a friend’s place on Saturday to borrow a first-aid kit. The friend lived near Gleason, who was mowing his lawn at the time Riley was grabbing the kit. Judd said Riley approached Gleason and asked him where “Amber” was because God told him she was going to commit suicide. 

Witnesses said Gleason and Delgado told Riley that there was no Amber there and that they didn’t know what he was talking about. Eventually, Gleason and his mother-in-law told Riley to leave or they would call the cops, and he did. 


“When our suspect Riley left he was very angry at Justice because he thought Justice had kept him from seeing this child, Amber, that was going to commit suicide,” said Judd. “And that’s when Brian Riley said, ‘God told me to kill everyone and to rescue Amber because she’s a victim of sex trafficking.’” 

Riley’s girlfriend, who has been with him for four years, told police a week earlier he left to go work security at a church and came back with an”infatuation about being able to speak directly to God, and God talk directly back.”

Upon getting back to his home after his interaction with Gleason and Delgado, Riley got into an argument with his significant other, who told him God doesn’t talk to him. That evening he left the home at around 1 a.m. with a large shoulder bag, and began reconnaissance on the house. He entered the home and began his killing spree around 4:45 a.m..

Riley was experienced with weapons and tactical planning. Judd said the 33-year-old “had four years in the Marines, three years in the reserves, a trip to Afghanistan and Iraq. He worked in executive and private security and was well thought of and was well-trained. He has 16 separate certificates and security and tactical training.” 

His training came through in his planning and executing of the massacre, which included staking out the home, repositioning his car three times to allow for the quickest exit, slashing the tires on the vehicles so his victims couldn’t escape, and leaving glow sticks to aid him while fleeing. 

Riley has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted murder, seven counts of attempted murder of a police officer, two counts of shooting into a building, two counts of armed burglary, and second-degree arson. 

In another horrific case, a father in California killed his two young children last month because QAnon—a conspiracy centred around child sex trafficking—and other conspiracies convinced him they were going to grow up to be monsters. 

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