Virginia man Austin Lee Edwards, 28, is accused of “catfishing” a teen before killing her family

According to a news release from the city’s police department, a former Virginia police officer who was suspected of killing a teenager’s family in Riverside, California, after “catfishing” her online, was killed in a shootout while attempting to elude capture. Austin Lee Edwards, 28, of North Chesterfield, Virginia, was named as the ex-cop. Detectives have said they think Edwards met the teen through “catfishing,” a type of online fraud in which a person poses as someone else.

According to police, officers from the Riverside Police were called out on Friday to check on the welfare of a young woman who appeared upset as she got into a red car with a man. Just a few houses from the location of the welfare check, 911 dispatchers started receiving calls about a fire while officers were on the scene.

Three adult casualties were laying in the front entryway of the flaming house when firefighters arrived. They were victims of an apparent homicide when they were hauled outside, according to the announcement.

According to a preliminary inquiry, the young woman who made the original call was actually a teenager who resided in the house where the murders and fire took place, according to the police.

San Bernardino County

The teen and Edwards had a relationship online, whereby Edwards allegedly acquired the teen’s personal data. Then, according to the press release, he made his way from Virginia to Riverside, where he parked his car in a neighbor’s driveway and made his way to the teen’s house on foot. Authorities think Edwards killed the teen’s mother, grandmother, and grandparents at some point before returning to his car with the teen and driving off.

Edwards was seen driving alongside the teen through San Bernardino County several hours after the bodies were discovered, according to police.

The press release claims that after exchanging gunfire with deputies from the San Bernardino County sheriff’s office who were trying to stop Edwards, the latter was shot and later pronounced dead at the scene.

The teen was not hurt and was later taken into the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services’ custody, according to the police.

Edwards resigned from the Virginia State Police in October, according to the agency. Detectives in California learned he was “recently employed at the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in the state of Virginia.”

“It is shocking and sad to the entire law enforcement community that such an evil and a wicked person could infiltrate law enforcement while concealing his true identity as a computer predator and murderer. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Winek family, their friends, officers, and all of those affected by this heinous crime,” said Washington County Sheriff Blake Andis.

Who are the victims?

Mark Winek, 69, his wife Sharie Winek, 65, and their daughter Brooke Winek, 38, have been named as the victims. Their deaths’ precise causes and methods are yet unknown.

Austin Lee Edwards Family

“Mark, Sharie, and Brooke were loving people who didn’t deserve this tragedy,” the family of the victims said in a Monday statement. The family also thanked “everyone for their love, support, prayers, and patience during this horrific time.”

“We are still processing the new information provided by authorities and will be speaking further at a press conference in conjunction with Riverside Police Dept. later this week. Please respect our privacy at this time,” the statement said.

“Our hearts go out to the Winek family and their loved ones during this time of tremendous grief, as this is a tragedy for all Riversiders,” city Police Chief Larry Gonzalez said in the release.

“This is yet another horrific reminder of the predators existing online who prey on our children. If you’ve already had a conversation with your kids on how to be safe online and on social media, have it again. If not, start it now to better protect them.”

Austin Lee Edwards’ career.

On July 6 of last year, Edwards was hired and enrolled in the program. Officials assigned him to Henrico County in the Richmond Division of Virginia after his graduation on January 21, 2022. Less than a month before the horrific murder, on October 28, 2022, he announced his resignation from the department.

Given that the reason Edwards quit was documented in his employment file, Virginia State Police declined to disclose it.

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On November 16, 2022, he joined the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, where he resumed his career in law enforcement. Prior to being assigned to the patrol division, he recently started the department’s orientation procedure.