Former Virginia state police officer ‘fished’ teenage girl before murdering California family: police

A former Virginia state police officer was killed in a shootout with deputies after he traveled across the country and allegedly killed the mother and grandparents of a teenager he “fished” online, police said.

According to California officials, the crime spree began just after 11 a.m. on Friday, November 25. Riverside Police officers were called to a home in the 11200 block of Price Court following reports of a disturbance between a man and a teenage girl. Officials said the teenager “appeared distraught” as he got into a red Kia Soul with a man who was later identified as 28-year-old Austin Lee Edwards of North Chesterfield, Virginia.

Shortly after that call, the Riverside Fire Department received calls from a fire at a nearby home. Authorities later learned that the burning house was the girl’s home. When firefighters entered the home, they found the girl’s mother, 38-year-old Brooke Winek, and her grandparents, 69-year-old Mark Winek and 65-year-old Sharie Winek, dead inside. Their bodies were dragged from the building and investigators determined they had been killed.

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Austin Lee Edwards, 28, is accused of killing three people in Riverside. He was shot by San Bernardino County deputies.

A few hours later, San Bernardino County deputies found Edwards driving with the teenager in an unincorporated area of ​​Kelso, nearly 200 miles northeast of Riverside. When confronted, Edwards fired a gun at MPs, according to officials. Edwards was shot and pronounced dead at the scene. The teenager who was in the car was not injured. She was taken into protective custody.

According to officials, Edwards met the girl online and “fished” her by pretending to be someone he wasn’t. After developing a relationship with her, authorities said Edwards obtained her personal information and traveled to Riverside from Virginia to see her. 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.

Officials said Edwards worked for the Virginia State Police and until recently was employed by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Virginia.

The Virginia Police Department has since released a statement that Edwards was hired and entered the academy on July 6, 2021. He graduated as a soldier on Jan. 21, 2022 and was assigned to Henrico County, which is part of the Richmond Division, the department said. According to the Virginia PD, Edwards resigned on October 28, 2022.

Dozens of people turned out for a vigil on Saturday to show their support for the family.

“It’s really amazing to see you all out here supporting us and giving us strength. We really need it and we are really grateful to you. You will keep my family’s legacy in your hearts and spread the love. Thank you for being here, honor to my family,” said a family member who cannot be identified at this time.

Neighbors described the Wineks as “loving.” A GoFundMe campaign was launched to help the family with funeral expenses.

Investigators said they are still investigating the cause of the fire but they believe it was started intentionally, although they have not said if they believe Edwards started the fire.

“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.

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Sharie Winek (left), Mark Winek (centre) and Brooke Winek (right) have been identified by family as the three who were found dead in a riverside home.

“This is another terrifying reminder of the online predators that prey on our children,” he added. “If you’ve already had a conversation with your kids about staying safe online and on social media, have it again. If not, start now to better protect them.”

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