A former Virginia police officer is accused of “catfishing” a 15-year-old girl online before traveling to Riverside, California, and murdering her family.
The ex-cop has been identified as 28-year-old Austin Lee Edwards of North Chesterfield, Virginia.
Edwards resigned from the Virginia State Police in October. He was “recently employed at the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Virginia.”
According to police, Austin Lee Edwards developed an online relationship with the teen and obtained her personal information.
He then traveled from Virginia to Riverside, parked his car in a neighbor’s driveway, and walked to the teen’s home.
Authorities believe Edwards killed the teen’s mother, Brooke Winek, 38, and her grandparents, Mark Winek, 69, and Sharie Winek, 65.
The exact cause and manner of their deaths are still pending.
He then set the home on fire and forced the distressed teen into his red car.
Neighbors spotted Edwards forcing the teen into the car and called the police to conduct a welfare check.
Shortly thereafter, calls about a home fire. That’s when firefighters discovered the bodies of the teen’s family in the front entryway of the burning home.
Hours after the bodies were found, police tracked Austin Lee Edwards driving with the teen in San Bernardino County.
According to the release, Edwards exchanged gunfire with the San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies attempting to stop him, was shot by deputies, and was later pronounced dead at the scene.
The teen was unharmed and later placed in protective custody at the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services.
“Mark, Sharie, and Brooke were loving people who didn’t deserve this tragedy,” the family of the victims said in a Monday statement. The family also thanked “everyone for their love, support, prayers and patience during this horrific time.”
“We are still processing the new information provided by authorities and will be speaking further at a press conference in conjunction with Riverside Police Dept. later this week. Please respect our privacy at this time,” the statement said.
What a tragic story. My heart and prayers go out to this family.
Please talk to your kids about the dangers of talking to strangers like Austin Lee Edwards online.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below or join the convo on our socials. (Facebook, Instagram)
Source: CNN & CBS Mornings