A former Virginia State Police officer reportedly took a young girl, killed her family, and burned her home after traveling across the country to meet her. The former police officer then led authorities into a pursuit that resulted in a shootout, ultimately killing the suspect.
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Riverside Police were dispatched around 11am on Friday, November 25 to conduct a social check on a young woman “who looked distraught as she got into a red Kia Soul with a man,” a department spokesman said in an press release.
While officers were responding to the welfare check, headquarters received calls from a building fire a few houses down.
Riverside Fire arrived first and initiated a fire attack, the spokesman said. They forced their way into the apartment and discovered three adults lying on the floor in the entrance area. Their bodies were dragged outside, where officers determined they were the victims of an alleged murder.
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Investigators later determined that the “young woman described in the initial welfare call review was a teenager who lived where the house fire and murders occurred,” the spokesman said.
The murder victims have been identified as Mark Winek, 69, and Sharie Winek, 65, the teen’s grandmother. The third body was also identified as Brooke Winek, 38, the teenager’s mother.
Although the teenager’s identity has not been released to the public, investigators identified the man she was accompanying as Austin Lee Edwards, 28, of North Chesterfield, Virginia.
Edwards previously worked in the Washington County Sheriff’s Department and for the Virginia State Police, according to California authorities.
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Two hours after receiving the social security call, deputies found a red Kia Soul traveling on the freeway matching the earlier description, a spokesman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said.
Both the sheriff’s aviation teams and the California Highway Patrol followed the car from afar until the sheriff’s Specialized Enforcement Division (SWAT) could catch up, the spokesman said. When SWAT intercepted Edward’s car, the suspect fled, leading the deputies in a pursuit.
Edwards began firing at law enforcement during the pursuit, hitting the SWAT vehicle “numerously,” the spokesman said.
Eventually, Edwards lost control of his car and went off the road.
Both Edwards and the teenage victim exited the vehicle. Edwards began firing at the hovering helicopter while the young girl was rescued by deputies, the spokesman said.
MPs fired their guns at Edwards, who was pronounced “unresponsive” and “deceased” on contact, the spokesman confirmed.
The young girl was not physically harmed during the encounter and was placed in protective custody by the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services.
The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department is investigating the fatal encounter and the Riverside Police Department is investigating the triple murder.
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Detectives determined that Edwards had met with the teenager online and formed a connection with him, the Riverside spokesman said. The young girl then gave personal information to the perpetrator, who later drove from Virginia to California.
“This is yet another terrifying reminder of the online predators that prey on our children. If you’ve already talked to your kids about staying safe online and on social media, repeat it. If not, start now to better protect them,” advised Riverside Police Chief Larry Gonzalez.