Ex-trooper dies in shootout after killing family of teen he catfished, police say
A former Virginia state trooper died in a shootout with California deputies after he allegedly killed relatives of a teenage girl he catfished online.
A Virginia law enforcement employee was killed in a shootout with deputies in California after he allegedly killed the mother and grandparents of a teenage girl he had catfished online, police said Sunday.
Austin Lee Edwards, a former trooper with the Virginia State Police who was working for the Washington County Sheriff's Office, was accused of driving off with the girl after the killings in the Southern California city of Riverside on Friday, police said.
It wasn't clear if Edwards, 28, was a sworn officer when he allegedly killed 69-year-old Mark Winek; his wife, 65-year-old Sharie Winek; and their daughter, 38-year-old Brooke Winek. Washington County Sheriff Blake Andis did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In a statement, Andis said Edwards was hired earlier this month and was in the process of being assigned to the patrol division. Edwards resigned from Virginia State Police on October 28, a spokesperson for the agency said.
The spokesperson declined to provide additional details, citing a state law that bars authorities from releasing anything beyond a resignation date.
The bodies of the Wineks were discovered after officers were called to Riverside's La Sierra South neighborhood just after 11 a.m. to check on the welfare of a girl who appeared distressed while getting into a red Kia Soul with a man, the city's police department said in a news release.
While officers were responding, police began to receive calls about a structural fire just a few houses away from where the welfare call was reported, they said.
The Riverside Fire Department arrived at the residence to find a fire on the first floor. When they entered, they discovered three adults lying on the ground, police said.
"Their bodies were pulled outside where it was determined they were victims of an apparent homicide," the Riverside Police Department said, adding that firefighters were able to put the fire out.
During a preliminary investigation, detectives found out that the girl described in the initial welfare call had lived at the house where the three people were found dead, police said.
Authorities were also able to identify the man she was seen with as Edwards, of North Chesterfield, Virginia.
Several hours later, authorities were able to track Edwards' vehicle as he was driving with the teen through San Bernardino County in the unincorporated area of Kelso.
When deputies with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department caught up to Edwards, the suspect fired gunshots at them, before being fatally shot by at least one deputy, police said. Edwards was pronounced dead at the scene, they said.
The teen was not physically harmed and was placed into protective custody of the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services, police said.
"Detectives determined Edwards had met the female teenager through the common form of online deception known as 'catfishing,' where someone pretends to be a different person than they actually are," the Riverside Police Department said.
Police said that it was believed Edwards had developed an online relationship with the teen and was able to obtain her personal information.