Former police officer allegedly catfishes teen girl online, kills her family

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A former Virginia police officer allegedly “hijacked” a teenage girl online before she traveled to Riverside, California, and killed her family, according to police.

The murders were discovered Friday after authorities received a report of a girl who “appeared upset” when she got into a car with a man, Riverside police said.

When officers responded to that call, they received reports of a fire in a nearby home.

Firefighters and the Riverside Police Department gather outside a burned down home in Riverside, California, after a house fire on November 25, 2022. Three bodies were found in the house and are being investigated by the police as murder.

Will Lester/Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG via AP

PHOTO: Firefighters and Riverside Police gather outside a burned down home in Riverside, California, after a house fire on Nov. 25, 2022.  Three bodies were found in the house and are being investigated by the police as murder.

Firefighters and the Riverside Police Department gather outside a burned down home in Riverside, California, after a house fire on November 25, 2022. Three bodies were found in the house and are being investigated by the police as murder.

Will Lester/Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG via AP

Police said three family members were found dead in the home from apparent murders: 69-year-old Mark Winek; his wife, 65-year-old Sharie Winek; and their daughter, 38-year-old Brooke Winek.

The Wineks “were loving people who didn’t deserve this,” the family said in a statement.

The fire appears to have been set intentionally, police said, adding that causes of death were still pending.

PHOTO: Brooke Winek, 38, is shown in a photo released by the Riverside Police Department.  Winek was found by firefighters at the home in Riverside, CA, and was determined to be the victim of an apparent murder along with her parents.

Brooke Winek, 38, is shown in a photo released by the Riverside Police Department. Winek was found in the Riverside, CA home by firefighters as they put out the fire, and was determined to be the victim of an apparent murder along with her parents.

Riverside Police Department

PHOTO: Sharie Winek, 65, and her husband Mark Winek, 69, are shown in a photo released by the Riverside Police Department.  The couple was found at the home in Riverside, CA, and were determined to be victims of an apparent murder.

Sharie Winek, 65, and husband Mark Winek, 69, are shown in a photo released by the Riverside Police Department. The couple were found by firefighters at the Riverside, CA home putting out the fire, and were determined to be victims of an apparent murder along with their daughter.

Riverside Police Department

Authorities said the teenage girl lived in that home and the victims included her mother and grandparents.

The man who got into the car with the teen was identified as 28-year-old Austin Lee Edwards of Virginia, according to police.

The girl is 15, according to Riverside police officer Ryan Railsback.

Just hours after the three bodies were found, authorities said they saw Edwards driving the girl.

Austin Lee Edwards, the suspect in a Southern California triple homicide who died in a shootout with police on Nov. 25, 2022, in a Riverside Police Department photo.

Austin Lee Edwards, the suspect in a Southern California triple homicide who died in a shootout with police on Nov. 25, 2022, in a Riverside Police Department photo.

Riverside Police Department via AP

Edwards, who had worked for the Virginia state police, allegedly led deputies on a chase and fired at them, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office said. Edwards lost control of his car and drove off the road, pointing a gun at a sheriff’s helicopter, the sheriff’s office said.

Deputies then fired at Edwards, who was pronounced dead at the scene, the sheriff’s office said.

The teen was rescued and was not injured, according to police.

Riverside police said they determined Edwards had met the teen online through “‘catfishing’, where someone pretends to be a different person than they really are.”

According to the police, the 28-year-old suspect was pretending to be a teenager, according to Railsback.

After Edwards developed a relationship with the girl online, police said they believed he drove from Virginia to California, parked in a neighbor’s driveway, went to the girl’s house, and killed her family. According to police, Edwards then took the teen and drove off.

PHOTO: First responders at work at the scene of a fire where three murder victims were found, in Riverside, California on Nov. 26, 2022.

First responders are shown at work at the scene of a fire where three murder victims were found, in Riverside, California on November 26, 2022.

KABC

Edwards was hired by the Virginia State Police in July 2021 and resigned on October 28, 2022, the agency said.

Edwards passed the state background check, state police said.

“As a probationary employee, Edwards also received monthly performance evaluations, in accordance with department policy. During Edwards’ brief tenure with the department, he never engaged in any behavior that led to internal administrative or criminal investigations,” the state police said in a statement. pronunciation.

Edwards was hired by the Washington County, Virginia, Sheriff’s Office on November 16, 2022, and had begun orientation with the department, according to the sheriff’s office.

“Former employers and the Virginia State Police were contacted during the hiring process, but no employer disclosed any concerns, reprimands or internal investigations related to Edwards,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement.

Washington County Sheriff Blake Andis added in a statement: “It is shocking and saddening to the entire law enforcement community that such a bad and evil person is able to infiltrate law enforcement while hiding his true identity as a computer predator and murderer. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Winek family, their friends, officers and everyone affected by this heinous crime.”

Beatrice Peterson, Jenna Harrison and DeMarco Morgan of ABC News contributed to this report.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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