RIVERSIDE, Calif. (KTLA) — A 28-year-old man formerly employed by the Virginia State Police has been identified as a suspect in a triple homicide in Riverside, California.
Austin Lee Edwards was shot dead by San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies Friday after exchanging gunfire with them. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
A teenage girl with him was unharmed after the shooting and was later placed in protective custody by the Riverside County Department of Public and Social Services.
“Detectives determined that Edwards met the teenager through a common form of online deception known as ‘catfishing,’ in which someone pretends to be a different person than they actually are,” authorities said press release. “Edwards is believed to have formed an online relationship with the teenager and obtained her personal information. He traveled from Virginia to Riverside, where he parked his car in a neighbor’s driveway and entered the teenager’s home.”
Police say Edwards murdered the teenager’s grandfather, grandmother and mother in the home.
“Detectives learned that Edwards had worked for the Virginia State Police and was until recently employed by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Virginia,” the release said.
Police said officers were dispatched around 11am on November 25 to conduct a social inquiry into a young woman who appeared to be in distress when she got into a red Kia Soul and walked with a man later identified as Edwards.
As officers responded, reports came in of a fire at a home a few doors down from where the welfare call was made.
Riverside Fire Department crews entered the home and discovered three adult victims lying on the floor in the entryway.
“Their bodies were dragged outside, where it was determined they were victims of an apparent homicide,” RPD officials said in a press release.
A preliminary investigation revealed the young woman was a teenager living where the house fire and murders took place. The man she was dating was later identified as Edwards, who resides in North Chesterfield, Virginia.
“Information was related to allied law enforcement agencies regarding the triple murder and Edwards,” police said. “A few hours later, he was spotted driving with the teenager through San Bernardino County … in the unincorporated Kelso area.”
The three victims were identified as 69-year-old Mark Winek; his 65-year-old wife, Sharie Winek, and their daughter, 38-year-old Brooke Winek.
A GoFundMe campaign has been launched to help with the funeral expenses of the three victims and continued support for two teenage girls who have lost family members.