Virginia man accused of ‘catfishing’ teen before killing family, police say – KESQ


By Amanda Watts, Tina Burnside and Zoe Sottile, CNN

A former Virginia police officer, believed to have murdered the family of a teenage girl in Riverside, California, after “looking them up” online, has been killed in a shooting while trying to flee from authorities, the city’s police department said. it’s a statement. a press release.

Riverside Police officers were dispatched Friday to check on the well-being 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 in the front entrance of the burning home. When they were taken outside, they were determined to be victims of an apparent homicide, according to the statement.

A preliminary investigation determined that the young woman described in the initial call was a teenager who lived where the house fire and slayings occurred, police said.

The man he was accompanying was eventually identified as Austin Lee Edwards, 28, of North Chesterfield, Virginia, according to the statement.

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

According to police, Edwards had developed an online relationship with the teen and obtained her personal information. She then traveled from Virginia to Riverside, where she parked her vehicle in a neighbor’s driveway and walked to the teen’s home, the statement said. At some point, authorities believe Edwards murdered the teen’s grandfather, grandmother and mother before returning to his vehicle with the teen and driving away.

Several hours after the bodies were found, Edwards was seen driving with the teen through San Bernardino County, police said.

According to the statement, Edwards exchanged gunfire with San Bernardino County Sheriff’s deputies who were trying to arrest him, the deputies shot him and he was later pronounced dead at the scene.

The teen was uninjured and was later taken into the protective custody of the Riverside County Department of 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 with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

“It is shocking and sad for the entire law enforcement community that such an evil and evil person could infiltrate law enforcement while hiding his true identity as a cyber predator and killer. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Winek family, their friends, 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 deaths are still pending.

The cause of the house fire remains under investigation, although it appears to have been set intentionally, according to the statement.

“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,” City Police Chief Larry Gonzalez said in the statement.

“This is yet another horrifying reminder of the predators that exist online that are preying on our children. If you’ve already had a conversation with your kids about being safe online and on social media, do it again. If not, start it now to better protect them.”

The CNN Wire
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