LAKELAND, Fla. — It's a conversation Miranda Watson never believed she'd have to prepare for – telling her daughter her father had been murdered.
Before dawn Sunday, detectives say a stranger barged into a Lakeland area home and fatally shot 40-year-old Justice Gleason. A 33-year-old woman and the 3-month-old baby she was holding – both murdered.
In a nearby house on the property, a 62-year-old woman was found dead, too.
The accused gunman didn't know them. Those who did are grieving and searching for answers.
"I'm in disbelief, I just can't believe somebody would do something like this," Watson said.
She says she and Gleason have been good friends for a decade. They have a daughter together.
"He was an amazing father," Watson recalled. "He would always lift you up if you felt down. He was a very positive person. His smile could light up a room. One of the most sweetest, nicest people I've ever met."
Now, Watson is thinking about the heart-wrenching conversation she'll one day have with their 4-year-old daughter Olivia.
"I have no idea. I have plenty of pictures of him and her together. I'm just going to wait until she's a little older and try to explain everything the best way I know how," Watson said.
Other parents who live in the area of North Socrum Loop Road and Fulton Green Road say their hearts have been shattered, too.
"I just couldn't imagine kids without parents," neighbor Richard Glover said. "I had two parents. I was fortunate, and now these poor people, I feel so sorry for them."
Watson says while her little girl won't have a father, she'll always be his daughter.
"She has his eyes, his smile, his fun-loving attitude," Watson said.
Photos of Justice Gleason
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd identified the gunman who killed Gleason as 33-year-old Bryan Riley, a former Marine and Reservist who did tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as a sharp shooter.
Riley, of Brandon, occasionally worked security as an independent contractor with a protection business. He'd recently done an assignment at an Orlando area church and indicated God began speaking to him, Judd explained. Riley later became increasingly erratic, admitted to taking meth, and suggested God told him to murder the people in Lakeland, authorities said.
Investigators say early indications are he had "zero" connections to the deceased, other than having a bizarre interaction in the neighborhood the evening prior. He's apparently been looking for somebody named "Amber" who did not live in the area, Judd said, only to return later and launch a massacre.