comscore California police: Virginia deputy killed family, took teen
Top News

California police: Virginia deputy killed family, took teen

Honolulu Star-Advertiser logo
Unlimited access to premium stories for as low as $12.95 /mo.
Get It Now
  • WILL LESTER/INLAND VALLEY DAILY BULLETIN/SCNG VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                Firefighters and Riverside Police gather outside a burned home in Riverside, Calif., on Friday, following a house fire. Three bodies were found in the house which police are investigating as a homicide.

    WILL LESTER/INLAND VALLEY DAILY BULLETIN/SCNG VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Firefighters and Riverside Police gather outside a burned home in Riverside, Calif., on Friday, following a house fire. Three bodies were found in the house which police are investigating as a homicide.

  • RIVERSIDE POLICE DEPARTMENT VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                Austin Lee Edwards, the suspect in a triple homicide in Southern California who died in a shootout with police Friday. Edwards is believed to have driven across the country to meet a teenage girl before killing three members of her family, police said.

    RIVERSIDE POLICE DEPARTMENT VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Austin Lee Edwards, the suspect in a triple homicide in Southern California who died in a shootout with police Friday. Edwards is believed to have driven across the country to meet a teenage girl before killing three members of her family, police said.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. >> The suspect in a Southern California triple homicide who died in a shootout with police was a Virginia law enforcement officer who investigators believe drove across the country to meet a teenage girl before killing three members of her family.

Austin Lee Edwards, 28, also likely set fire to the family’s home in Riverside, California, on the day of the shooting Friday before leaving with the girl, according to the Riverside Police Department.

Deputies exchanged gunfire with and fatally shot Edwards after locating him with the teenager later that day, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department and Riverside Police said in news releases.

Until last month, Edwards was a Virginia State Police trooper and was recently hired as a sheriff’s deputy in that state, spokespersons said.

Edwards, a resident of North Chesterfield, Virginia, met the girl online and obtained her personal information by deceiving her with a false identity, known as “catfishing,” Riverside Police said.

The bodies found in the home were identified as the girl’s grandparents and mother: Mark Winek, 69, his wife, Sharie Winek, 65, and their 38-year-old daughter, Brooke Winek. Police said the exact causes of their deaths remain under investigation.

The teenager was unharmed and taken into protective custody by the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services, Riverside Police said.

Police in Riverside, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southeast of downtown Los Angeles, received a call for a welfare check Friday morning concerning a man and woman involved in a disturbance near a car. Investigators later determined the two people were Edwards and the teenager, whose age was not released.

Authorities believe Edwards parked his vehicle in a neighbor’s driveway, walked to the home and killed the family members before leaving with the girl.

Dispatchers were alerted to smoke and a possible structure fire a few houses away from the disturbance. The Riverside Fire Department discovered three adults lying in the front entryway.

The cause of the fire was under investigation but appeared to have been intentionally set, police said.

Riverside authorities distributed a description of Edwards’ vehicle to law enforcement agencies and several hours later, police located the car with Edwards and the teenager in Kelso, an unincorporated area of San Bernardino County. Edwards fired gunshots and was killed by deputies returning fire, police said.

Edwards was hired by the Virginia State Police and entered the police academy on July 6, 2021, Virginia State Police Public Relations Manager Corinne Geller told The Associated Press in an email. He graduated as a trooper on Jan. 21, 2022, and was assigned to Henrico County within the agency’s Richmond Division until his resignation on Oct. 28.

Edwards was hired as a deputy in Washington County, Virginia, on Nov. 16 and had begun orientation to be assigned to the patrol division, the sheriff’s office said in a statement. During the hiring process, “no employers disclosed any troubles, reprimands, or internal investigations pertaining to Edwards,” the statement said.

“It is shocking and sad to the entire law enforcement community that such an evil and 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,” Washington County Sheriff Blake Andis said.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office was assisting California agencies in the investigation.

Riverside Police Chief Larry Gonzalez called the case “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,” Gonzalez said.

An online fundraising campaign was launched today to help cover funeral expenses and support the victims’ families.

Comments (15)

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Terms of Service. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. Report comments if you believe they do not follow our guidelines.

Having trouble with comments? Learn more here.

Click here to see our full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak. Submit your coronavirus news tip.

Be the first to know
Get web push notifications from Star-Advertiser when the next breaking story happens — it's FREE! You just need a supported web browser.
Subscribe for this feature

Scroll Up