Authorities have released additional information about what they believe led to a triple homicide in Riverside, California.
The teenage daughter of one of the victims found after a house fire was kidnapped by a Virginia man who “fished” her online, according to a press release.
Just after 11 a.m. Friday, Riverside Police officers were called to a home following reports of disturbance between a man and a teenage girl. Officials said the teenager “appeared distraught” as he climbed into a Red Kia Soul, later identified as 28-year-old Austin Lee Edwards of North Chesterfield, Virginia.
While officers were responding to the welfare check, a call came in about a house fire nearby. Authorities later learned that the burning house was the girl’s home. Riverside Fire Department initiated a fire attack and entered when they found three adult victims lying on the floor in the front entrance. Their bodies were taken outside, where they were found to be victims of murder.
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The victims have been identified as the girl’s mother, 38-year-old Brooke Winek, and her grandparents, 69-year-old Mark Winek and 65-year-old Sharie Winek. The exact cause and manner of her death are still under investigation.
The cause of the house fire is also still under investigation, although authorities say it appears to have been started on purpose.
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A few hours later, Edwards was spotted driving with the teenager through San Bernardino County in the unincorporated Kelso area, where he was located by deputies.
When confronted, Edwards allegedly shot MPs before they fired back and killed him. The youth was not injured and was taken into protective custody.
Officials say Edwards met the girl online and “fished” her by pretending to be someone he wasn’t. After developing a relationship with her and obtaining her personal information, he traveled from Virginia to Riverside to see her, they said. Edwards allegedly parked his car in a neighbor’s driveway, went to the girl’s house and murdered her mother and grandparents before leaving with the teenager.
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Edwards had worked for the Virginia State Police and until recently was employed by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Virginia, officials said.
“Our hearts go out to the Winek family and loved ones at this time of tremendous sadness as this is a tragedy for all Riversiders,” Riverside Police Chief Larry Gonzalez said in a statement. “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, do it again. If not, start now to better protect them.”