According to the city’s police department, a former Virginia police officer is suspected of murdering a teenager’s family in Riverside, California, after “catfishing” her online. He was killed in a shootout while attempting to flee authorities. The ex-cop was identified as Austin Lee Edwards, 28, of North Chesterfield, Virginia.
Detectives believe Edwards met the teen through “catfishing,” a type of online deception in which someone pretends to be someone else. Riverside Police officers were dispatched Friday to check on the welfare of a young female who appeared distressed while getting into a red car with a man, according to police. During the officers’ response, 911 dispatchers began receiving calls about a fire in the same neighborhood, only a few houses away from where the welfare check originated.
Three adult victims were discovered in the front entryway of the burning house by firefighters. When they were led outside, it was discovered that they had been the victims of an apparent homicide, according to the release. According to police, a preliminary investigation determined that the young female described in the initial call was a teenager who lived in the area where the house fire and homicides occurred.
Police say Edwards had obtained her personal information. He then drove from Virginia to Riverside, where he parked his car in a neighbor’s driveway and walked to the teen’s house, according to the release. Authorities believe Edwards murdered the teen’s grandfather, grandmother, and mother before walking back to his vehicle and fleeing with the teen. Several hours after the bodies were discovered, Edwards was seen driving with the teen through San Bernardino County, according to police.
According to the release, Edwards exchanged gunfire with deputies from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department who were attempting to stop him, was shot by deputies, and was pronounced dead at the scene. According to police, the teen was unharmed and was later placed in the protective custody of the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services.
California detectives discovered he was employed at the “Washington County Sheriff’s Office in the state of Virginia,” and Edwards resigned in October. Mark Winek, 69, his wife Sharie Winek, 65, and their daughter Brooke Winek, 38, have been identified as the victims. The cause and manner of their deaths are still unknown.
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