According to investigators, an incident involving the teenage daughter of one of the victims and catfishing led to the deaths of a husband, wife, and daughter in Riverside.
According to a Saturday night update from the Riverside Police Department, a man who was allegedly having an online relationship with Brooke Winek’s adolescent daughter killed Mark Winek, his wife Sharie Winek, and their 38-year-old daughter Brooke Winek.
The day after Thanksgiving is when the entire incident took place.
Officers were called to the 11200 block of Price Court at around 11:08 a.m. to check on “a young female who appeared upset.” She was getting into a red Kia Soul with a man.
As police were arriving, calls started flooding in about a fire that was only a few houses away from where the welfare check originated.
The deaths of all three Winek family members were discovered in the front entryway by firefighters from the Riverside Fire Department while they battled the blaze.
According to the police statement, “their bodies were pulled outdoors where it was established they were victims of an apparent homicide.”
#BREAKING NEWS: The murders of a husband and wife and their daughter in Riverside allegedly stemmed from a catfishing incident involving the teenage daughter of one of the victims, police said. Here are the latest details. https://t.co/WDjpvye233
— ABC7 Eyewitness News (@ABC7) November 28, 2022
The young woman who was identified in the initial welfare check call was actually an adolescent who resided at the house where the fire started, according to authorities. She was with a man named Austin Lee Edwards, 28, who was from North Chesterfield, Virginia.
The teen girl and Edwards met online, according to detectives, “via the widespread form of online deception known as catfishing.”
In Virginia, according to the police, Edwards drove to Riverside, parked his car in a neighbor’s driveway, and then walked to the teen’s house. Investigators think that Edwards convinced the teen to engage in an internet romance.
In an interview with Eyewitness News on Sunday, RPD Ofc. Ryan Railsback said, “We had a grandmother, grandfather, and a mother of this child slain by this suspect who went from across the nation for, most likely, the sexual exploitation of this teenager.” What transpired here in terms of the activity known as “catfishing,” or claiming to be someone else online, is rather frequent.
Later that day, the county sheriff’s office in the outlying region of Kelso allegedly caught Edwards driving with the teen across San Bernardino County.
Deputies shot and killed Edwards after he allegedly fired rounds at them, according to the police. According to officials, the teen is secure and unharmed.
Investigators claim that before recently switching to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Edwards was employed by the Virginia State Police.
Riverside Police Chief Larry Gonzalez declared, “Our hearts go out to the Winek family and their loved ones during this time of great sadness since this is a tragedy for all Riversiders.”
“This serves as another horrifying reminder of the predators who prey on our children online. If you and your children have already discussed how to stay safe online and on social media, do so again. If not, begin it right away to better safeguard them.”
The precise reason for the Winek family’s deaths is still a mystery.
Even though police stated that “it appears at this stage to have been purposefully started,” the cause of the house fire is still being investigated.
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Neighbors told Eyewitness News at a vigil on Saturday that the Winek family was always neighborly and went above and beyond to support the neighborhood. The family of the victims was present, but they declined to talk to the media.
Some people claimed to be devastated.
“I merely want everyone to be aware of their love. They are not worthy of this. I don’t eat. I am not asleep.
It just really, really impacted me, “Bonnie Davis, who claimed to have lived next door to the Wineks for 20 years, made the statement. They were simply the kind of individuals you would never wake up thinking you would hear this about.
The organizer of Saturday’s vigil, a woman who only wanted to be known as Joi, told Eyewitness News that she had just moved to the Riverside neighborhood when she first learned of the tragedy.
What do you mean they didn’t make it? I just plummeted to my stomach when I received the news, she recalled.
Joi remembers how Mark Winek offered his assistance after learning she was a single mother. At Arlington High School, he mentored young athletes, according to a GoFundMe created for the family.
Joi recalled that “he immediately said, “I’m going to mow your grass, I’m going to assist you out while you’re not here,””
The victim’s family declined to speak with Eyewitness News directly, but they did make a public statement to those who attended the vigil, thanking them for coming and respecting their privacy at this difficult time.
On Monday, the family hinted that they could issue another statement.
Anyone with information is encouraged to contact Detective Josh Ontko at (951) 353-7135 or JOntko@RiversideCA.gov, or Detective Bryan Galbreath at (951) 353-7105 or BGalbreath@RiversideCA.gov. The investigation is still ongoing.