RIVERSIDE, Calif. (KTLA) — A 28-year-old man who used to be employed by the Virginia State Police has been identified as the suspect in a triple homicide in Riverside, California.
Austin Lee Edwards was shot and killed by San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies Friday after exchanging gunfire with them. He was declared dead at the scene.
A teenage girl with him was unharmed after the shootout and was later placed into protective custody of the Riverside County Department of Public and Social Services.
“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,” authorities said in the release. “It is believed Edwards had developed an online relationship with the teen and obtained her personal information. He traveled from Virginia to Riverside where he parked his car in a neighbor’s driveway and walked into the teen’s home.”
Police say Edwards murdered the teen’s grandfather, grandmother and mother at the home.
“Detectives learned Edwards had worked for the Virginia State Police and was until recently employed at the Washington County Sheriff’s office in Virginia,” the release noted.
Police said that around 11 a.m. on Nov. 25, officers were dispatched for a welfare check of a young woman who appeared to be in distress while getting into a red Kia Soul and leaving with a man, later identified as Edwards.
While officers were responding, reports came in of a fire at a home just a few houses away from where the welfare-check call originated.
Crews with the Riverside Fire Department entered the home and discovered three adult victims lying on the ground in the entryway.
“Their bodies were pulled outside where it was determined they were victims of an apparent homicide,” officials with RPD said in a news release.
A preliminary investigation revealed that the young woman was a teenager who lived where the house fire and the homicides occurred. The man she was with was later identified as Edwards, who is a resident of North Chesterfield, Virginia.
“Information was related to allied law enforcement agencies regarding the triple homicide and Edwards,” police said. “Several hours later, he was discovered driving with the teen through San Bernardino County…in the unincorporated area of Kelso.”
The three victims have been identified as 69-year-old Mark Winek; his 65-year-old wife, Sharie Winek, and their daughter, 38-year-old Brooke Winek.
A GoFundMe campaign has been started to help with the funeral expenses of the three victims and the continued support of two teenage girls who lost their family members.