LAKELAND, Fla. - Sheriff Grady Judd says just a few days before the killings happened in Lakeland, suspect Bryan Riley was in Orlando working security at a church.
It’s unclear which church, but it’s after the visit when he allegedly told his girlfriend he heard the voice of God.
"This guy, prior to this morning, was a war hero," Sheriff Grady Judd said on Sunday during a news conference.
Now, Sheriff Judd says Bryan Riley will be best known as the prime suspect in a mass murder.
Judd says Riley, who appeared in court Monday morning, served four years as a Marine and suffers from PTSD.
It’s a problem all too common for many veterans, according to experts.
"The problem is if you don’t process it and work through it afterward, it can come up later and sometimes can result in psychoses," said licensed mental health counselor Shantala Boss.
Sheriff Judd says Riley claimed God spoke to him.
But, Boss and religious leaders say it’s likely there’s a different explanation.
"According to statistics, 30% to 40% of veterans with PTSD have hallucinations, whether they be auditory or visual," Boss said. "We don’t really know exactly what he was hearing or thinking, but we always in our mind try to make sense of that, so saying it’s God or something is a way of kind of coping."
"If a person has grown up hearing the expression, ‘God told me,’ then they go ‘that’s a thought that I’ve never had before. That’s different. That must be God speaking to me,’" said Interfaith Council of Central Florida Executive Director Jim Coffin. "Because it’s such a powerful thing, it has tremendous potential both in a positive direction and in a negative direction. That person may be looking to religion to try to deal with these problems that he himself feels."
Ultimately, no matter how mentally ill he may be, Sheriff Judd says it’s no excuse for what happened.
"Just to underscore, just because you have mental health problems does not mean you’re not criminally liable. He’s criminally liable," Judd said.
Riley is locked up behind bars with no bond.
Here is a statement from the security firm Sheriff Judd says Riley worked for while in Orlando prior to the incident:
"This statement is in response to the incidents that occurred yesterday in Polk County. First and foremost it is a tragic event and our prayers are with the family and friends of the victims. In response to the press conference announcement regarding Bryan Riley's relationship with ESS Global Corp, the information released yesterday was inaccurate. Bryan was not an employee of ESS Global Corp; however, an independent 1099 contractor who has worked no more than three days over the past two years. We are currently cooperating with the Polk County Sheriff’s department and have expressed our willingness to help in any way we can. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family devastated by this senseless act of violence."