Riverside murders: Virginia man accused of ‘fishing’ for teenage girl before killing her family, police say
A former Virginia police officer believed to have killed a family of teenagers in Riverside, California, after “hunting” her down online, she was killed in a shootout while trying to flee authorities, the city’s police department said in Media Release.
The former officer has been identified as Austin Lee Edwards, 28, of North Chesterfield, Virginia. Detectives said they believe Edwards met the teenager through “catfishing,” a form of online deception in which someone pretends to be another person.
Riverside police officers were dispatched Friday to check on the welfare of a young woman who appeared distressed as she got into a red car with a man, police said. As officers responded, 911 dispatchers began receiving calls about a fire in the same neighborhood, just a few houses away from where the welfare check originated.
Firefighters discovered three adult victims lying at the entrance to the burning house. When they were dragged outside, it was determined that they were the victims of an apparent murder, according to the statement.
A preliminary investigation determined that the young woman described in the first call was a teenager who lived in the area where the house fire and murders occurred, police said.
According to police, Edwards developed an online relationship with the teenager and obtained her personal information. He then traveled from Virginia to Riverside, where he parked his vehicle in a neighbor’s driveway and went to the teenager’s home, according to the release. At one point, authorities believe Edwards killed the teenager’s grandfather, grandmother and mother before returning to his vehicle with the teenager and leaving.
Hours after the bodies were found, Edwards was spotted driving with the teenager through San Bernardino County, police said.
According to the release, Edwards exchanged gunfire with San Bernardino County Sheriff’s deputies trying to stop him and was shot by the deputies and later pronounced dead at the scene.
The teenager was unharmed and was later placed in the protective custody of Riverside County Public Social Services, police said.
Edwards resigned from the Virginia State Police in October, according to the agency. Detectives in California learned that he was “recently employed by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in the State of Virginia.”
“It is shocking and saddening to the entire law enforcement community that such a wicked and evil person could infiltrate the police while hiding his true identity as a computer predator and killer. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Winek family, their friends, the law enforcement officers and all those affected by this heinous crime,” said Washington County Sheriff Blake Andis.
The victims have been identified as Mark Winek, 69, his wife Sharie Winek, 65, and their daughter Brooke Winek, 38. The exact cause and manner of their death is not yet known.
The cause of the fire at the home remains under investigation, although it appears to have been intentionally set, according to the release.
“Our hearts go out to the Winek family and their loved ones during this time of tremendous sadness, as this is a tragedy for all Riversiders,” city police Chief Larry Gonzalez said in a statement.
“This is another terrible reminder of the predators that exist on the Internet and prey on our children. If you’ve already talked to your kids about staying safe online and on social media, bring them up again. If not, start protecting them better now.”
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