Austin Lee Edwards, a Virginia sheriff’s deputy, killed 3 people in California in a catfishing scheme.
Edwards catfished a Riverside teenager, drove cross-country to her house, then killed her family.
He tried to kidnap the girl and burn her house down, but was killed in a shootout with police.
A Virginia sheriff’s deputy was identified by officials Sunday night as the perpetrator of a California triple homicide that concluded a tragic catfishing scheme he concocted as part of an apparent attempt to kidnap a teenager.
On the morning of Friday, Nov. 25, police in Riverside, California, received a call for a welfare check after a young woman in distress was spotted being ushered into a car by a man, the Riverside Police Department said in a statement.
Fire department officials responded to the scene first, as additional calls were received at the same time regarding a fire at a home nearby. In the burning home, fire department officials found the bodies of three apparent homicide victims, later identified as 69-year-old Mark Winek, his wife, 65-year-old Sharie Winek, and their daughter, 38-year-old Brooke Winek.
After an investigation, the teenage daughter of Brooke Winek was found later that day being driven around Riverside County by 28-year-old Austin Lee Edwards of North Chesterfield, Virginia, who fired at police and was killed in a shootout in the unincorporated area of Kelso.
“It is believed Edwards had developed an online relationship with the teen and obtained her personal information,” Riverside Police Department said in a statement, indicating he had catfished the teenager. “He traveled from Virginia to Riverside where he parked his vehicle in a neighbor’s driveway and walked to the teen’s home. At some point, he murdered the teen’s grandfather, grandmother, and mother before walking back to his vehicle with the teen and leaving.
Riverside Police Department did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
Edwards’ home of North Chesterfield is more than 2,500 miles from Riverside. It is unclear when he first traveled to the state of California or how he communicated with the teenage Winek. A former trooper of the Virginia State Police, Edwards was hired as a deputy of the Washington County Sheriff’s Department less than two weeks ago, assigned to its patrol division.
“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,” Washington County Sheriff Blake Andis said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the Winek family, their friends, officers, and all of those affected by this heinous crime.”
The Washington County Sheriff’s Department did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
Though the scope of sexual misconduct by police officers is unknown due to a lack of reporting and a systemic effort to cover up such crimes, an investigation by the Associated Press found about 1,000 officers across six years has lost their licenses for committing sex crimes that included rape and possessing child pornography — a number the AP says is certainly an undercount.
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