A former police officer from Virginia who was wanted for killing a teen’s family in Riverside, California, after “catfishing” her online was killed in a shootout while trying to get away from police, according to a news release from the city’s police department.
The former officer was identified as 28-year-old Austin Lee Edwards from North Chesterfield, Virginia. The detectives believe that Edwards met the teen through “catfishing,” a form of online deception in which a person poses as another person.
Police said that on Friday, officers from the Riverside Police Department were dispatched to check on the welfare of a young woman who appeared distressed while entering a red car with a man.
During the officers’ response, 911 dispatchers began receiving calls about a fire in the same neighbourhood, just a few houses away from where the welfare check originated.
Three adult victims were found lying in the front entryway of the burning house by firefighters. “When they brought them outside, it was clear that they had been killed,” the release said.
Police said that an initial investigation showed that the young woman described in the first call was a teenager who lived in the house where the fire and deaths happened.
Police say that Edwards had gotten to know the teen online and had personal information about her. The release said that he then drove from Virginia to Riverside, where he parked his car in a neighbor’s driveway and walked to the teen’s house.
Authorities think Edwards killed the teen’s grandfather, grandmother, and mother at some point before walking the teen back to his car and leaving.
Police say that a few hours after the bodies were found, Edwards was seen driving through San Bernardino County with the teenager.
According to the news release, Edwards and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Deputies who were trying to stop him fired at each other, and Edwards was shot by the deputies and later pronounced dead at the scene.
Police said that the teen was not hurt and was later put in the care of the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services.
The agency says that Edwards quit his job with the Virginia State Police in October. Detectives in California found out that he had “recently worked at the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in the state of Virginia.”
“It is shocking and sad that such a bad person could get into law enforcement while hiding his true identity as a computer predator and murderer.” Washington County Sheriff Blake Andis said, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the Winek family, their friends, officers, and everyone else affected by this horrible crime.”
Mark Winek, 69, his wife Sharie Winek, 65, and their daughter Brooke Winek, 38, have been named as the dead. We still don’t know what killed them or how they died.
In a statement released Monday, the victims’ families said, “Mark, Sharie, and Brooke were loving people who didn’t deserve this tragedy.” The family also thanked “everyone for their love, support, prayers, and patience during this horrible time.”
“We are still going over the new information that authorities have given us, and we will talk more about it at a press conference with the Riverside Police Department later this week.” “At this time, please respect our privacy,” the statement said.
According to the police news release, the cause of the house fire is still being looked into, but it seems to have been started on purpose.
In the release, City 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 Riversidens.”
“This is a horrible reminder that there are predators online who target children. If you’ve already talked to your kids about how to stay safe online and on social media, have that conversation with them again. If not, do it now to protect them better.”
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