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Man accused of killing 4 in Florida did not know his victims, police say

Authorities work at the scene of a shooting in Polk County, Fla., on Sunday. (Michael Wilson/Lakeland Ledger/AP)
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The man accused of killing four people in Polk County, Fla., over the weekend told police that he did not know the victims, according to an arrest affidavit.

Bryan Riley, 33, is accused of invading two Lakeland-area homes Sunday and killing a mother, her 3-month-old baby and two other adults. The Polk County Sheriff’s Office said an 11-year-old girl who was shot seven times was in critical but stable condition. Riley also killed the family’s dog, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said during a Sunday news conference.

When officers arrived at the scene Sunday, the affidavit says, they heard a woman screaming. Officials say Riley shot at deputies who entered the home, leading to an exchange of gunfire between police and the suspect. Riley eventually surrendered and was taken to a hospital with a gunshot wound, according to police. He attempted to grab an officer’s gun while being transported to the hospital, the affidavit says.

The night before the shooting, Judd said, a man showed up in the victims’ neighborhood and told residents that he had a vision of someone killing herself. Neighbors called the police, but the man was gone by the time they arrived. That man is believed to have been Riley.

The 11-year-old who survived told police that the gunman entered her home, asking for the person from his vision before the shooting, according to the affidavit.

Justice Gleason, who was 40, is the only victim who has been publicly identified. Miranda Watson, a friend of Gleason’s who had a child with him, remembered him as a helpful, happy-go-lucky person.

“That man always had a smile on his face,” she said.

Gleason helped her leave a fraught relationship, she said, and was an amazing father to her 4-year-old daughter.

Gleason “never met a stranger,” she said, and he loved fishing, spending time with his children and listening to music — especially Lynyrd Skynyrd and Chris Stapleton. He was always singing and strumming his guitar, she said. He taught her sons to play.

Watson recalled a beach trip a few years ago, when Gleason eagerly hunted for shells with the children and drew marker tattoos on one of her sons’ arms back at the hotel.

“He was like a giant kid in a man’s body,” she said.

On Sunday, as authorities were investigating the deaths of Gleason and three others, the sheriff said Riley was a Marine who served tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq. The U.S. Marine Corps confirmed Tuesday that Riley served from 2007 to 2011.

Riley’s fiancee told police that he had been acting strange over the past week after returning from working a security detail at a church in Orlando, according to the affidavit.

In Riley’s first court appearance Monday, a judge ruled that he would not be issued bond, the 10th Circuit Trial Court said. The public defender’s office could not immediately be reached Monday. Riley said he would like to hire his own attorney, the 10 Tampa Bay television station reported.

During an interview with police, Riley admitted shooting several people and said voices instructed him to do it, according to the affidavit.

Asked why he shot the baby, the affidavit says, Riley responded: “Because I’m a sick guy. I want to confess to all of it and be sent to jail.”

The victims begged Riley to stop as he continued shooting, the affidavit says he told officers.

In the interview, police said Riley also told them he set a nearby pickup truck on fire as an “exit strategy.”

Riley was booked into the Polk County jail Sunday, accused of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer, armed burglary with battery, arson, cruelty to an animal and shooting into an occupied dwelling.

Meryl Kornfield contributed to this report.