After reportedly killing the mother and grandparents of a teenage girl he had catfished online, a Virginia law enforcement officer was slain in a gunfight with deputies in California, according to police on Sunday.
After the killings in the Southern California city of Riverside on Friday, Austin Lee Edwards, a former trooper with the Virginia State Police who was working for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, was allegedly seen leaving with the girl.
When Mark Winek, 69, his wife Sharie Winek, 65, and their daughter Brooke Winek, 38, were reportedly killed, it was unclear if Edwards, 28, was a sworn officer. A request for comment from Washington County Sheriff Blake Andis did not receive a prompt response.
Andis claimed in a statement that Edwards had only recently been hired and was now undergoing the process of being assigned to the patrol division. According to a Virginia State Police spokeswoman, Edwards left the organization on October 28.
The spokeswoman declined to offer any information, citing a state statute that prevents officials from disclosing information beyond a resignation date.
According to a news statement from the city’s police department, the Wineks’ deaths were found after authorities were summoned to Riverside’s La Sierra South area shortly after 11 a.m. to check on the welfare of a girl who appeared upset as she got into a red Kia Soul with a male.
Ex-Virginia State Trooper, Austin Lee Edwards, Suspected of Catfishing Teenager and Murdering Her Family the Day After Thanksgiving Dies in Shootout with California Copshttps://t.co/YMmLzSwguT
— Watchman on the Wall | Never Trust a Cop (@SamsonIsrael16) November 28, 2022
A few houses distant from where the welfare call was reported, police claimed, they started receiving calls about a structural fire as cops were responding.
When the Riverside Fire Department arrived at the house, they discovered that the first floor was on fire. Three adults were found on the ground as they entered, according to the police.
The Riverside Police Department stated that “their bodies were pulled outdoors where it was established that they were victims of an apparent homicide” and added that firefighters were successful in extinguishing the fire.
Detectives learned during a preliminary inquiry that the girl mentioned in the initial welfare call had resided at the home where the three people were discovered deceased, according to the police.
The person she was spotted with, Edwards, of North Chesterfield, Virginia, was also recognized by authorities.
A few hours later, as Edwards was accompanying the adolescent through San Bernardino County in the unincorporated area of Kelso, authorities were able to locate Edwards’ car.
After being pursued by deputies from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, Edwards opened fire on them before being fatally shot by at least one deputy, according to the authorities. They said that Edwards was declared dead at the scene.
The teen was taken into the care of the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services and was not physically hurt, according to authorities.
According to the Riverside Police Department, “detectives found that Edwards had met the female teenager through the widespread internet fraud known as ‘catfishing,’ where someone appears to be someone they’re not,”
The kid and Edwards allegedly maintained an online interaction whereby Edwards was able to access the teen’s personal data, according to the police.
He drove from Virginia to Riverside, where he parked his car in a neighbor’s driveway and went to the home of the teenage girl, killing her mother, her grandfather, and her grandmother before returning to his car and driving away, according to the police.
The authorities stated that the reason and manner of the Wineks’ deaths were still under investigation. Police reported that although the cause of the fire at the home was still under investigation, it appeared to have been started.
The Winek family thanked everyone for their love and support in a statement released on Monday “at this terrible period of our lives. Being kind individuals, Mark, Sharie, and Brooke didn’t deserve this tragedy.”
According to the statement, the family is analyzing fresh information from the authorities and will speak at a news conference with regional authorities on Wednesday.