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

A former Virginia police officer allegedly “fished” a teenage girl online before traveling to Riverside, California, and killing her family, according to police.

Riverside police said authorities discovered the murder after receiving a report Friday of a girl “expressing distress” when she got into a car with a man.

As officials responded to the report, they received calls of nearby homes on fire.

Photo: Firefighters and Riverside Police gather outside a burned home after a fire broke out in Riverside, Calif., Nov. 25, 2022. Three bodies were found in the house and police are investigating the homicide.

Firefighters and Riverside Police gather outside a burned home after a fire broke out in Riverside, California, Nov. 25, 2022. Three bodies were found in the house and police are investigating the homicide.

Will Lester/Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG via AP

Photo: Firefighters and Riverside Police gather outside a burned home after a fire broke out in Riverside, Calif., Nov. 25, 2022. Three bodies were found in the house and police are investigating the homicide.

Firefighters and Riverside Police gather outside a burned home after a fire broke out in Riverside, California, Nov. 25, 2022. Three bodies were found in the house and police are investigating the homicide.

Will Lester/Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG via AP

Police said three family members were found dead in apparent homicide: Mark Winek, 69; his wife, Sharie Winek, 65; and their daughter Brooke Winek, 38. Winek).

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In a statement, the Wineks said the Wineks “loved someone who didn’t deserve this.”

Police said the fire appeared to have been set on purpose, adding that the cause of death was still under investigation.

Photo: A photo released by the Riverside Police Department shows Brooke Winek, 38. Firefighters found Winek at the Riverside, California, house and determined she was an apparent homicide victim, along with her parents.

Brooke Winek, 38, is seen in a photo released by the Riverside Police Department. Firefighters found Winek at the house in Riverside, California, as they fought a blaze and determined that she, along with her parents, were apparently victims of the homicide.

Riverside Police Department

Photo: A photo released by the Riverside Police Department shows Sharie Winek, 65, with her husband, Mark Winek, 69. The couple were found at their Riverside, California, house and were determined to be the victims of an apparent homicide.

Sharie Winek, 65, and her husband Mark Winek, 69, are seen in a photo released by the Riverside Police Department. The couple were found by firefighters battling a blaze at their Riverside, California, home and determined they were victims of an apparent homicide, along with their daughter.

Riverside Police Department

Authorities said the teenage girl lived in the house where the victims were her mother and grandparents.

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The man who got into the car with the teen has been identified as Austin Lee Edwards, 28, of Virginia, according to police.

The girl is 15 years old, according to Riverside Police Sergeant Ryan Railsback.

Hours after the three bodies were found, authorities said they found Edwards driving with the girl.

A photo provided by the Riverside Police Department shows a Southern California triple homicide suspect, Austin Lee Edwards, killed in a shootout with police on Nov. 25, 2022.

A photo provided by the Riverside Police Department shows a Southern California triple homicide suspect, Austin Lee Edwards, killed in a shootout with police on Nov. 25, 2022.

Associated Press Riverside Police Department

Edwards, who had worked for the Virginia State Police, allegedly led officers on a chase and shot them, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office said. Edwards lost control of his car and drove off the road, holding the sheriff’s helicopter at gunpoint, according to the sheriff’s office.

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The deputies then shot 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 met the teen online through “‘catfish,’ which in this case is someone pretending to be someone different than they actually are.”

Police believe the 28-year-old suspect was posing as 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 home and killed her family members. Edwards then drove off with the teen, according to police.

Photo: First responders work at the scene of a fire in Riverside, Calif., on Nov. 26, 2022, where three homicide victims were found.

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

KABC

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

State police said Edwards passed the state’s background check.

“As a probationary employee, Edwards also underwent monthly performance reviews in accordance with department policy. At no time during Edwards’ brief tenure with the department did he display any conduct that would have prompted any internal administrative or criminal investigation,” state police said. said in a statement. statement.

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

“During the hiring process, past employers and Virginia State Police were contacted; however, no employer disclosed any troubles, 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 a shame to the entire law enforcement community that such a nefarious and vicious individual can infiltrate law enforcement while concealing his true identity as a computer predator and murderer. It is shocking and sad. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Winek family, their friends, officers and all those affected by this heinous crime.”

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

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