RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — The suspect in a triple homicide in Southern California, who died in a shootout with police on Friday, reportedly drove across the country to meet a teenage girl before killing three family members, police said With.
Austin Lee Edwards, 28, also likely set the family home in Riverside, California on fire before leaving with the girl. Deputies with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department killed Edwards after locating him with the teenager later in the day, police said.
Edwards, 28, previously worked for the state police and a sheriff’s department in Virginia, authorities in California said.
Edwards, a resident of North Chesterfield, Virginia, met the girl online and obtained her personal information by deceiving her with a false identity known as “catfishing,” the Riverside Police Department said.
The bodies found in the home have been identified as the girl’s grandparents and mother – Mark Winek, 69, his wife, Sharie Winek, 65, and their 38-year-old daughter Brooke Winek. Police said the exact causes of death are still under investigation.
The teenager was unharmed and was placed in protective custody by the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services.
Police in Riverside, about 80 kilometers southeast of downtown Los Angeles, received a social security call Friday morning regarding a man and woman involved in a disturbance near a car. Investigators later determined that the two people were Edwards and the teenager, whose ages were not disclosed.
Authorities believe Edwards parked his vehicle in a neighbor’s driveway, went to the house and killed the family members before leaving with the girl.
Dispatchers were alerted to smoke and a possible building fire a few houses down from the disturbance. Riverside Fire Department discovered three adults lying in the front entrance and took them outside, where emergency responders “determined they were victims of apparent homicide,” police said.
The cause of the fire is being investigated, but was apparently “deliberately ignited,” the police said.
Riverside authorities distributed a description of Edwards’ vehicle to law enforcement, and a few hours later police located the car containing Edwards and the teenager in Kelso, an unincorporated area of San Bernardino County. Edwards fired shots and was killed by officers who returned fire, police said.
The Virginia State Police and Washington County Sheriff’s Department did not immediately respond to requests for additional information about Edwards.
Riverside Police Commissioner Larry Gonzalez called the case “another terrifying reminder of the online predators preying 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,” Gonzalez said.
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