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Police: Virginia law enforcement officer accused of driving to California and killing family after ‘catfishing’ teenage daughter

California police believe Edwards traveled from Virginia to Riverside, parked his vehicle in a neighbor's driveway, and allegedly walked to the teen's home.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — A Virginia law enforcement officer was killed in a shootout while trying to flee from deputies in California after he allegedly murdered the family of a teenage girl who he had catfished online, Riverside Police Department said.

Riverside Police officers were dispatched Friday to check the welfare of a young woman who appeared distressed while getting into a Red Kia Soul with a man, police said.

While officers were responding, the department's Public Safety Communications Center began receiving phone calls of a fire, in the same neighborhood, just a few houses away from where the welfare check originated.

Firefighters with the Riverside Fire Department arrived and reported a working fire on the first floor of the residence. Firefighters entered the home and discovered three adults lying on the ground in the front entry way. 

When they pulled the bodies outside, it was determined they were victims of an apparent homicide, the Riverside Police Department said in a news release. 

A preliminary investigation determined the young woman described in the initial call was a teenager who lived in the house.

The man she accompanied was eventually identified as Austin Lee Edwards, 28, of North Chesterfield, Virginia, the release stated. Detectives learned Edwards had worked for the Virginia State Police until he was recently employed a the Washington County Sheriff's Office in Virginia. 

Detectives determined 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.

Riverside police believe Edwards had developed an online relationship with the teen and obtained her personal information. He then traveled from Virginia to Riverside, where he parked his vehicle in a neighbor's driveway and walked to the teen's home, according to the release.

Credit: Riverside Police Department

At some point, authorities believe Edwards murdered the teen's grandfather, grandmother, and mother before walking back to his vehicle with the teen and leaving.

Several hours later, authorities were able to track down Edwards' car as he was driving with the teen through San Bernardino County in the unincorporated area of Kelso, police said.

When deputies with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department caught up with Edwards, he fired gunshots at them, before being fatally shot by one of the deputies, police said. Edward was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the press release.

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

“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.” 

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 deaths are still pending. The cause of the fire continues to be under investigation, although it appears at this point to have been intentionally ignited, the release stated. 

This investigation is still ongoing and there are no other details to release at this time. 

Anyone with additional and relevant information should contact Detective Josh Ontko at (951) 353-7135 or JOntko@RiversideCA.gov, or Detective Bryan Galbreath at (951) 353-7105 or BGalbreath@RiversideCA.gov. 

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