Suspect in Riverside killing of 3 family members had ‘fished’ teenager, police say – Daily News

The killer of three family members in Riverside on Friday was a Virginia attorney who had formed an online romantic relationship under false pretenses with a teenage girl who was the victims’ granddaughter and daughter, investigators said Sunday.

The suspect – who fled with the teenager following the killings and an arson attack at the victims’ home – died in a shootout with law enforcement in the Mojave Desert that night. The young girl escaped the shooting unharmed.

Austin Lee Edwards, 28, of North Chesterfield, Virginia, was identified as a suspect in the murder of three Riverside residents at her home on Friday, November 25, 2022.  (Courtesy Riverside Police Department)
Austin Lee Edwards, 28, of North Chesterfield, Virginia, was identified as a suspect in the murder of three Riverside residents at her home on Friday, November 25, 2022. (Courtesy Riverside Police Department)

The suspect is Austin Lee Edwards, 28, of North Chesterfield, Virginia, authorities said. Riverside detectives learned that Edwards had worked for the Virginia State Police until recently being employed by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Virginia.

San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Personnel encountered Edwards and the teenager in the suspect’s red Kia Soul in the desert town of Kelso — not Needles, as previously reported, the sheriff’s department said. At Kelso Cima Road, SWAT intercepted Edward’s vehicle. During the pursuit, Edwards shot the deputies. Edwards lost control as the pursuit ended and he went off the road. The teenage woman who escaped was rescued by deputies before Edwards died in the shooting, the sheriff’s department said.

Riverside Police confirmed those killed Friday were 69-year-old Mark Winek, his wife, 65-year-old Sharie Winek, and their daughter, 38-year-old Brooke Winek.

The exact cause and manner of her death are still pending, police said, adding it appears the fire at her home on Friday was started intentionally. It was this fire that led to the discovery of the victims’ bodies.

The young girl, who escaped the desert chase scene, was unharmed and was later placed in protective custody by the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services, Riverside Police said.

Detectives determined that Edwards met the teenage girl through a common form of online deception known as “catfishing,” in which someone pretends to be a different person than they actually are. Edwards is believed to have formed an online relationship with the teenager and obtained her personal information,” Riverside Police said in a statement. “He traveled from Virginia to Riverside, where he parked his vehicle in a neighbor’s driveway and walked to the teenager’s home. At one point he murdered the teenager’s grandfather, grandmother and mother before walking back to his vehicle with the teenager and leaving.”

“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, repeat it. If not, start it now to better protect them.

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said around 1:15 p.m. Friday, deputies from Morongo Basin Station and the Sheriff’s Aviation Unit observed the suspect’s Kia traveling on Highway 247.

“The driver of the vehicle, Austin Edwards, was … wanted in connection with the killings and was believed to be armed and dangerous,” the sheriff said in a statement, which talks about how the sheriff’s aviation units and the California Highway Patrol followed the Kia until SWAT could catch him up. The Kia headed south on Highway 247, east on Highway 62, and then onto Kelso Cima Road. This area is in the desert north of Freeway 40 and south of Freeway 15, east of Barstow and west of Needles.

Riverside Police noted in their statement that prior to pursuing and discovering the house fire at the scene where the Wineks died, “officers were dispatched to check on the well-being of a young woman who appeared distressed when she crashed into a Red Kia Soul climbed with a man…” Police were still investigating whether the teenager had been kidnapped.

At a vigil Saturday night, mourners honored members of the Winek family who died at the home at 11261 Price Court.

The Wineks have been described as a loving family with deep ties to the communities of western Riverside County.

“Mark Winek was a loving father, grandfather, uncle, brother and coach at Arlington High School,” wrote organizers of a GoFundMe attempting to raise $100,000 for the family. “Sharie Winek was a sweet and caring mother, grandmother, sister and aunt who appreciated spending time with her family. A beloved single mom with the biggest heart, Brooke Winek found her greatest joy in following her daughter in the color guard at Arlington High School.”

Brooke Winek (GoFundMe photo)
Brooke Winek (GoFundMe photo)

To the mourners gathered at Price Court late Saturday night, the Wineks were caring friends whose violent death came as a shock.

Up until the week before his death, Mark Winek was a regular presence in the life of his friend Ron Smith.

Their 30-year friendship began when they met at Corona High School while they were coaching baseball, Smith said. From there, Winek became not just a close friend, but a popular figure in the Inland Empire High School athletic community — for athletes and coaches alike.

“Mark was a man who played a big role in the ranks of softball and baseball coaching,” Smith said, adding that he was even a “respected coach for teams on the other side.”

Smith and Winek later worked together at Eleanor Roosevelt High School. Winek later left that job, but through birthdays, anniversaries, Notre Dame football, and home renovations, the friends stayed in touch.

Smith was a regular at the Wineks’ Price Court home and helped them remodel their kitchen. Smith recently gave his old friend an autographed football belonging to famed football underdog Rudy Rüttiger of the University of Notre Dame.

“You couldn’t ask for a better friend than Mark,” Smith said.

Smith said there was no sign of trouble prior to Friday’s killings. The only unusual thing Smith could remember was that the friends hadn’t exchanged Thanksgiving greetings this year.

“It’s a shock,” Smith said. “He’s a dear friend, there will be a hole in my heart that will be difficult to fill.”

Sheri Lazzarini, a friend of Mark Winek, said she met him when he asked to join her softball coaching staff at La Sierra High School in 1994 while his daughters attended school. In La Sierra, she said, “The kids loved him.”

She particularly remembered Winek’s dedication to maintaining the school’s baseball field. He even brought his own lawn mower to keep the lawn clean.

After they stopped working together, Lazzarini said that Winek, who called her “little sister,” was still faithfully texting her on birthdays and holidays. She said he was a “special man”.

“He was a man dedicated to supporting student athletes,” said Lazzarini. “I don’t want the legacy to be what happened because he was a really special man.”

The investigation into the triple murder continued. Anyone with additional and relevant information can contact Detective Josh Ontko at (951) 353-7135 or [email protected] or Detective Bryan Galbreath at (951) 353-7105 or [email protected]