RIVERSIDE, Calif. (TCD) -- A 28-year-old former law enforcement worker accused of "catfishing" a teenager and killing her grandparents and mother was allegedly fatally shot by deputies.
Shortly after 11 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 25, Riverside Police officers were called to perform a welfare check after a girl got into a red Kia Soul with a man, later identified as Austin Edwards, on the 11200 block of Price Court, the department said. At the same time, authorities reportedly learned about a structure fire a few houses away.
Police said the Riverside Fire Department responded to the structure fire and found three deceased adult victims. According to police, "Their bodies were pulled outside where it was determined they were victims of an apparent homicide."
The victims were reportedly identified as 69-year-old Mark Winek, his wife, 65-year-old Sharie Winek, and their daughter, 38-year-old Brooke Winek.
It is believed that the house was intentionally ignited, but the investigation is ongoing.
Upon further investigation, police said Edwards, of North Chesterfield, Virginia, met the female teenager pretending to be a different person online.
According to police, "It is believed Edwards had developed an online relationship with the teen and obtained her personal information."
Edwards allegedly traveled from Virginia to Riverside and parked in a neighbor’s driveway. He reportedly walked into the teen’s home and killed the teen’s grandfather, grandmother, and mother before walking to his car and leaving with the teenager.
Edwards had worked for the Virginia State Police, and until the alleged triple homicide, he worked for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Virginia.
According to a news release from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office, in the afternoon of Friday, Nov. 25, deputies from the Morongo Basin Station and Sheriff’s Aviation Unit located Edwards’ vehicle on Highway 247. A vehicle pursuit ensued, and Edwards started firing at deputies, the Sheriff’s Office said. Edwards reportedly lost control of his car and drove off the road.
According to the Sheriff’s Office, the female teen left the car, and deputies rescued her. As Edwards exited his vehicle, he allegedly pointed a gun at a sheriff’s helicopter, and he was shot by deputies. He was pronounced deceased at the scene.
In a statement, Riverside Police Chief Larry Gonzalez 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."
Gonzalez continued, "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."