Virginia State Trooper, Austin Lee Edwards was killed in a shootout with deputies in California on Friday, hours after committing triple-homicide and arson
Edwards, 28, allegedly drove 2,000 miles cross-country to Riverside, California, to meet a teenage girl he catfished online
Edwards allegedly parked in a neighbor’s driveway walked up to the home and killed the girl’s grandparents Mark Winek, 69, and Sharie Winek, 65, as well as her mother, Brooke Winek, 38
He is also believed to have set fire to the girl’s home before driving away with the teen girl
Deputies located his vehicle hours later in San Bernardino County, and gave chase
He fired on the officers during the chase, before they shot him dead
The unnamed girl, who was unharmed, was taken into protective custody by the Riverside County Social Services Dept.
A Virginia State Trooper was shot dead by California sheriff’s deputies after he allegedly drove cross-country to commit triple-homicide and kidnap a teenage girl he catfished online.
Austin Lee Edwards, 28, drove 2,000 miles from his home in Virginia to meet the unidentified teen girl at her home in Riverside, California before killing her mother and grandparents and setting their home on fire Friday morning.
He then fled the scene with the girl before deputies from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department tracked him down. He opened fire on the pursuing off officers, but was killed in the in the return fire.
Authorities say Edwards met the teenager online and obtained her personal information by deceiving her with a false identity, known as ‘catfishing,’ before he decided to meet her in person over 2,000 miles away from where he lived.
‘We had a grandmother, grandfather and a mother of this teen murdered by this suspect who traveled from across the country for, most likely the sexual exploitation of this teenager,’ Officer Ryan Railsback told ABC 7.
The unnamed girl is now safe and was taken into protective custody by the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services.
Meanwhile, authorities are continuing to investigate the deaths of her grandparents, Mark Winek, 69, and Sharie Winek, 65, as well as the girl’s mother, Brooke Winek, 38.
It is unclear whether they were killed before the fire broke out. .
Police in Riverside said they were first called to the 11200 block of Price Court just before 11am on Friday to check on the welfare of a young girl who appeared distressed while getting into a red Kia Soul with an unknown man, later identified as Austin Edwards.
While officers were responding to the scene, police began to receive calls about a fire just a few houses away.
When first responders arrived at the scene, firefighters discovered three adults laying in the front entryway and took them outside, where rescue personnel ‘determined they were victims of an apparent homicide,’ police said.
The cause of the fire was under investigation, but appears to be deliberate arson>
The fire appeared to have been ‘intentionally ignited,’ police said, and authorities soon discovered that the girl described in the initial welfare check had lived in the house with her mother and grandparents.
At that point, law enforcement officials in the town, which lies about 50 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles, circulated BOLO on Edwards’ vehicle.
Within a few hours, police were able to track down Edwards’ Kia as he drove the teenager in Kelso, an unincorporated area of San Bernardino County. A sheriff’s helicopter spotted the vehicle on Highway 247 in the unincorporated area of Kelso and followed until a SWAT team responded.
Edwards, reportedly, led deputies on a chase and fired shots at deputies. He was shot and killed by deputies shortly after. The teen was not injured and is safe, according to police.
Investigators said Edwards had driven from his home in North Chesterfield, Virginia to Riverside, where he parked his vehicle in a neighbor’s driveway and walked to the girl’s home.
He then murdered the girl’s mother, grandmother and grandfather and set their home on fire before walking back to his vehicle with the girl and left the scene.
A GoFundMe campaign aimed at helping with the funeral expenses of the three victims and the continued support of two orphaned teenage girls, has raised $35,832 of $100,000 goal
‘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,’ Police Chief Larry Gonzalez said in a statement.
‘This is yet another horrific reminder of the predators existing online who prey on our children,’ he added. ‘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.’
Edwards had been working as a Virginia State Police trooper up until last month, an agency spokesperson has confirmed.
He was hired by the Virginia State Police and entered the police academy on July 6, 2021 and graduated as a trooper on January 21, 2022.
Edwards was assigned to Henrico County within the agency’s Richmond Division until his resignation on October 28, Virginia State Police Public Relations Manager Corinne Geller said in an email to The Associated Press.
He also worked for the Washington County Sheriff’s Department in Virginia, authorities in California said.
It remains unclear why he resigned from his position in Henrico County last month.
Friends and family members have now taken to social media to remember the Wineks, who have been described as staples of the Riverside community.
They were always neighborly and went out of their way to help others in the community, residents told ABC 7 at a vigil on Saturday night.
Mark Winek was a longtime coach at Arlington High School, whom friends and family describe as a family man who was always willing to help others out.
‘My Uncle Mark was an avid Notre Dame, Packer and Angel fan,’ Erick Winek wrote in a tribute to his family members. ‘He never faulted me, despite wearing Dodger blue in the spring and attending the university of a hated rival.
‘He gave the best hugs that always made me feel like everything was right.’