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Courts / Law

Former Marine Accused Of Fatally Shooting 4 In Lakeland, Including Infant In Mother's Arms

Scene from Polk shooting on Sept. 5, 2021
Polk County Sheriff's Office
Four people -- including a 3-month-old infant -- were killed in a shooting on Sept. 5, 2021.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said the suspect, a 33-year-old from Brandon, was suffering from PTSD.

Four people — including a mother who was cradling her 3-month-old infant — were fatally shot in a home in rural Polk County early Sunday morning, according to the Polk County Sheriff's Office.

The suspect is a 33-year-old former Marine from Brandon — about 28 miles away — who was armed and dressed in full body armor, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said in a Sunday morning news conference.

The suspect — who WUSF is not identifying due to the nature of his mental illness — was wounded when he exchanged in gunfire with deputies and Lakeland police officers outside the home in an unincorporated rural area in north Lakeland, Judd said.

He later exited the home and surrendered to authorities, Judd said. He is being held without bond at the Polk County Jail.

Found dead inside the home were Justice Gleason, 40, along with three people who were not identified due to Marsy's Law — a 33-year-woman, her 3-month-old child, and a 62-year-old woman who lived in an apartment behind the home.

Scene from Polk shooting on Sept. 5, 2021
A truck was set on fire outside a Lakeland home in which four people -- including a 3-month-old infant -- were killed in a shooting on Sept. 5, 2021.

An 11-year-old girl also sustained multiple gunshot wounds and underwent surgery, Judd said. She is expected to recover.

Judd said there was no apparent connection between the suspect and victims.

The suspect was taken to Lakeland Memorial Hospital for treatment of undisclosed injuries and is now in custody at the Polk County Jail, Judd said.

Judd said the suspect was calm once he was taken to the hospital Sunday morning and appeared to understand the ramifications of his actions while talking to law enforcement. According to the arrest affidavit, he admitted to shooting the victims and told detectives that voices and God told him to do it.

Judd said the suspect told officers he was a "survivalist" and had been taking meth while telling them, "you know why I did this."

But he later became agitated, Judd said, at point trying to grab a Lakeland police officer's pistol while in the emergency room.

During the news conference, Judd said authorities interviewed the suspect's girlfriend of four years. She said the suspect was becoming more delusional — telling her he's been "talking to God" — and his condition became gradually worse in the last week. She said he had not become violent or threatened violence.

"He’s criminally liable," Judd said. "He played word games with us. When you look, this guy prior to (Sunday) morning was a war hero. He fought for his country in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was a decorated military veteran and this morning he’s a cold, calculated murderer whose girlfriend of about four years said yes, we’ve noticed he had a little depression and PTSD from the war.

“It is a horror of the utmost magnitude.”

Scene from Polk shooting on Sept. 5, 2021
Four people -- including a 3-month-old infant -- were killed in a shooting on Sept. 5, 2021.

According to Judd, deputies responding to a call of a suspicious person on Saturday night. A witness told deputies the man was speaking irrationally before leaving the area.

Nine hours later, on Sunday around 4:23 a.m., Judd said a patrol officer hears two round of automatic gunfire and notified communications, and several deputies moved to the scene at the same time the sheriff's office received several 911 calls of an active shooter in that area — prompting other law enforcement agencies to respond.

When deputies arrived, Judd said a truck was on fire in the front yard and several glow sticks were placed in a path from the road to past the residence, "creating a path" toward the house, Judd said.

Judd said law enforcement saw the suspect outside, but he ran back into the house and began firing gunshots inside the house.

An officer attempted to enter the front of the house but it was blocked, Judd said. He went around to the back and forced his way in, and confronted the suspect wearing a bulletproof vest, camouflage, and other protection. He opened fire and the suspect was wounded before retreating back into the house.

After more gunfire was exchanged, air support units saw the man coming out of the house with his hands up, and he surrendered to authorities, Judd said.

Judd said the suspect also killed a dog inside the house.

The suspect was honorably discharged after serving four years in the Marines, followed by three years in the reserves, Judd said. He was deployed to Iraq in 2008 and Afghanistan in 2009-10, and was designated as a sharpshooter.

He was most recently employed as a bodyguard and security officer, Judd said.

The Lakeland police officer who shot the suspect is on administrative leave pending an investigation, Judd said.

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