A former Virginia police officer allegedly ‘catfished’ a teenage girl online before traveling to Riverside, Calif., and killing her family, police say.
The murders were uncovered Friday after authorities received a report of a girl “appearing upset” as she got into a car with a man, Riverside Police said.
When officers responded to this report, they received calls about a fire at a nearby home.
The police said three family members were found dead in the house of apparent homicides: Mark Winek, 69; his wife, Sharie Winek, 65; and their daughter, Brooke Winek, 38.
The Wineks “were loving people who didn’t deserve this,” the family said in a statement.
The fire appears to have been started intentionally, police said, adding that the cause of death was still pending.
Authorities said the teenager lived in the home and the victims killed were her mother and grandparents.
The man who got into the car with the teenager has been identified as Austin Lee Edwards, 28, of Virginia, according to police.
The girl is 15, according to Riverside police officer Ryan Railsback.
Several hours after the discovery of the three bodies, authorities said they spotted Edwards driving with the girl.
Edwards – who had worked for the Virginia State Police – allegedly led deputies in a chase and shot them, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office said. Edwards lost control of his car and drove off the road, pointing a gun at a sheriff’s helicopter, according to the sheriff’s office.
Deputies then shot Edwards who was pronounced dead at the scene, the sheriff’s office said.
The teenager was rescued and unharmed, police said.
Riverside Police say they determined Edwards met the teenager online through “‘catfishing,’ where someone pretends to be a different person than they really are.”
Police believe the 28-year-old suspect was posing as a teenager, according to Railsback.
After Edwards developed a relationship with the girl online, police said they believe he drove from Virginia to California, parked in a neighbor’s driveway, went to the girl’s house and killed her family. Edwards then allegedly took the teenager and drove away, according to police.
Edwards was hired by the Virginia State Police in July 2021 and resigned Oct. 28, 2022, the agency said.
Edwards passed the state background check, state police said.
“As a probationary employee, Edwards also received monthly performance reviews, in accordance with department policy. During Edwards’ short tenure with the department, he never exhibited any behavior that would trigger an investigation. internal administrative or criminal law,” the state police said in a statement. statement.
Edwards was hired by the Washington County, Va., Sheriff’s Office on Nov. 16, 2022, and had begun orientation with the department, according to the sheriff’s office.
“Former employers and the Virginia State Police were contacted during the hiring process; however, no employer disclosed any issues, reprimands or internal investigations regarding Edwards,” the office said. sheriff in a statement.
Washington County Sheriff Blake Andis added in a statement, “It is shocking and saddening to the entire law enforcement community that such an evil and wicked person could infiltrate law enforcement while hiding his true identity as a computer predator and murderer. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Winek family, their friends, the officers and all those affected by this heinous crime.”
ABC News’ Beatrice Peterson, Jenna Harrison and DeMarco Morgan contributed to this report.