‘I played dead and I prayed’: Girl remains hospitalized after family killed in Polk County shooting

POLK COUNTY, FLA. — An 11-year-old girl remains hospitalized after she was shot multiple times the same morning that four members of her family were shot and killed inside their Polk County home.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd provided an update on the girl’s condition and the investigation into suspect Bryan Riley, 33, on Thursday.

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Judd said the sheriff’s office is collecting donations for the family of the 11-year-old girl to help cover her medical bills and funeral costs for her family members. The public can contribute by clicking here and selecting “quadruple homicide victims.”

“We have a family that is going through a horror right now that no one should ever have to go through,” Judd said.

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Riley, 33, is being held without bond on four counts of first-degree murder for the slayings of Justice Gleason, 40; his 33-year-old girlfriend, Theresa Lanham; their son, Jody, who was born in May; and Lanham’s 62-year-old mother, Catherine Delgado, who owned the property. He is also accused of killing the family’s dog and shooting the 11-year-old girl multiple times.

Judd said Riley, a Marine veteran who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, has shown no remorse since the shooting.

“He’s an evil human being,” Judd said.

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Judd said Riley spent the hours before breaking into the family’s home on Sept. 5 doing, in Riley’s words, “reconnaissance” planning out how he would get into the home, and how he would make a fast exit.

“That was the beginning of his execution plan,” Judd said.

The sheriff said Riley lined the roads with glow sticks so he could easily find his way out, and slashed the tires of two cars on the property before dousing both in gasoline and lighting one on fire as a “diversion.”

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Judd said in interviews with Riley, Riley said he needed to get into the home to save a girl named Amber because she was a victim of sex trafficking inside the home. Judd said Amber did not exist and no one in the home was a victim of sex trafficking. Judd said the family and Riley had no known connection prior to the shooting.

The evening prior to the shooting, deputies said Riley talked to the man who lived at the home while he mowed his lawn, demanding that he speak with Amber because God told him she was going to commit suicide.

Family members told Riley to leave and called the deputies to investigate that night. Deputies said they scoured the area looking for his vehicle but couldn’t find it.

PHOTOS: 4 fatally shot including infant in unincorporated Polk County, suspect has shootout with deputies

Judd said Riley returned to the property in the early hours of the next morning to begin his “execution” plan.

Judd said Justice Gleason, his girlfriend Theresa Lanham, and their son, Jody, were all shot and killed while they hid in a bathroom. Judd said Lanham’s 62-year-old mother, Catherine Delgado, was shot and killed before that as Riley worked to “clear the house” as he searched for Amber.

The 11-year-old told deputies Riley pulled her aside and interrogated her about Amber, shooting her several times when she said she didn’t know who Amber was.

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“She said, ‘I played dead and I prayed,’ and that’s the reason she’s alive today,” Judd said.

Judd said the girl has at least seven bullet holes on her body. He said investigators believe Riley fired in excess of 100 times during the shooting.

Judd said when they arrived on the scene, deputies fired approximately 59 times. Judd said Riley was shot once in the stomach before surrendering.

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“This is the most extensive single crime scene that we have worked that I can remember,” Judd said.

He said deputies are still processing the scene and interviewing people.

Judd said when Riley was taken into custody, he told investigators that he’d used meth. Judd said they haven’t yet confirmed whether that is accurate, but that they have found evidence of Riley’s illegal steroid use.

“He looks like a man, but he’s not a man, he’s a sniveling coward,” Judd said.

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Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson, WFTV.com

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.