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Ex-Virginia state trooper accused of catfishing Riverside teen before killing her family, police say

A former Virginia police officer, believed to have murdered a teenager’s family in Riverside after “catfishing” her online, was killed in a shootout while trying to flee authorities, the city’s police department said in a news release.

Austin Lee Edwards

The suspect was identified as Austin Lee Edwards, 28, of North Chesterfield Virginia. Detectives learned Edwards had worked for the Virginia State Police but resigned in October. Detectives added that he was “recently employed at the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in the state of Virginia.”

Detectives said they believe Edwards had met the teen through “catfishing,” a form of online deception in which someone pretends to be a different person.

On Friday morning, authorities responded to the scene on the 11000 block of Price Court near the 91 Freeway to respond to a welfare check regarding a man and a woman involved in a disturbance near a car, according to Riverside Police Officer Ryan Railsback.

Soon after, dispatchers were alerted to smoke and a possible fire where the disturbance may have begun. Firefighters discovered three adult victims lying in the front entryway of the burning home. When they pulled them outside, it was determined they were victims of an apparent homicide, the release stated.

Detectives determined that Edwards had met the teen through the common form of online deception known as “catfishing,” where someone pretends to be a different person than they actually are. 

Police said they believe Edwards had developed an online relationship with the teen and obtained her personal information.  He traveled from Virginia to Riverside where he parked his vehicle in a neighbor’s driveway and walked to the teen’s home.  At some point, he murdered the teen’s grandfather, grandmother, and mother before walking back to his vehicle with the teen and leaving. 

Several hours after the bodies were found, Edwards was spotted driving with the teen in the unincorporated area of Kelso in San Bernardino County, police said.

According to the release, Edwards exchanged gunfire with the San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies attempting to stop him, was shot by deputies, and was later pronounced dead at the scene.

“It is shocking and sad to the entire law enforcement community that such an evil and wicked person could infiltrate law enforcement while concealing his true identity as a computer predator and murderer. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Winek family, their friends, officers, and all of those affected by this heinous crime,” said Washington County Sheriff Blake Andis.

The teen was unharmed and later placed into protective custody of the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services.

The victims were identified by police as Mark Winek, 69, his wife Sharie Winek, 65, and their daughter Brooke Winek, 38.  The exact cause and manner of their deaths are still pending. 

The cause of the house fire continues to be under investigation, however, police said it appears to have been intentionally ignited.

“Our hearts go out to the Winek family and their loved ones during this time of tremendous grief, as this is a tragedy for all Riversiders,” stated Riverside Police Chief Larry Gonzalez.  “This is yet another horrific reminder of the predators existing online who prey on our children.  If you’ve already had a conversation with your kids on how to be safe online and on social media, have it again.  If not, start it now to better protect them.”

Stay with News Channel 3 for continuing updates on this investigation.

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Article Topic Follows: Crime

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Jesus Reyes



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