Riverside murders: Virginia cop ‘catfished’ teen for murders, police say

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department gruesomely murdered the wanted suspect triple murder in Riverside after opening fire on a SWAT team on Friday.

According to authorities, on Friday, Nov. 25, deputies saw 28-year-old Austin Lee Edwards driving south on Highway 247 in a red Kia Soul. Aircraft followed Edwards until SWAT units could arrive on the scene. The planes tracked Edwards to Highway 62 and eventually Kelso Cima Road before the deputies could get into position.

When the team intercepted the vehicle, Edwards continued to drive away, firing at deputies as he tried to flee.

Austin Edwards, 28, is charged with the murder of three people in Riverside on Friday, November 25, 2022.

Riverside PD

He lost control of the wheel when he went off the road. Shortly after the crash, Edwards got out of the car and pointed his gun at a sheriff’s helicopter. Sheriff’s deputies shot Edwards. He was pronounced dead on the spot.

Edwards was charged with the murders of Mark Winek, 69, Sharie Winek, 65, and Brooke Winek, 38, at their home, located at Price Court in Riverside.

He is also accused of kidnapping a teenage girl, believed to be 15 years old, after the murder of the three people. Riverside Police said Monday morning it was not an official kidnapping case.

The girl was not injured during the chase. She is currently in protective custody. Police said they do not believe she was involved in the murders or in setting the fire.

“We believe at this time that the suspect was the only one involved in the murders and in setting the fire,” Riverside Police Officer Ryan Railsback said.

In updated details released Monday morning, a spokesman for the Virginia State Police said Edwards was hired and entered the academy on July 6, 2021. Edwards graduated as a trooper on January 21, 2022 and was assigned to Henrico County, within the Richmond Division.

Edwards resigned on October 28, 2022, according to the Virginia State Police.

The Washington County, Virginia, Sheriff’s Office said Edwards was still employed as a trooper with the Virginia State Police when he applied to the sheriff’s office.

During its background checks of previous employers, including the state police, “no employers disclosed any issues, reprimands or internal investigations related to Edwards,” according to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.

Hired by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office on November 16, 2022, Edwards had recently begun orientation before being assigned to the patrol division.

Riverside Police said detectives determined Edwards met the teenage girl online while pretending to be a different person, known as “catfishing.” Police were investigating whether Edwards had assaulted other victims.

“He developed a relationship with her, enough where we think there may have been an exchange of texts and maybe phone calls. And he was able to get her personal information. He was able to get her address,” said Railsback.

Officers believe Edwards traveled from Virginia to Riverside and allegedly parked in a neighbor’s driveway before walking to the teen’s residence on Friday, Riverside police said. He then killed the teen’s grandfather, grandmother and mother before walking the teen back to his vehicle and leaving the scene, police said.

The neighbor, who owned the driveway where Edwards parked, said the teen seemed upset about being barefoot, “crying a little bit”, and tried to say words to her. The neighbor, who asked to remain anonymous, added that Edwards was wearing a black trench coat and face mask. She added that the suspect had a plastic bag and a black backpack with him when he walked back to the car.

“I opened the garage door,” she said. “He was stunned. I said, ‘Hey, you can’t park here.’ He actually apologized, said sorry.”

Before the paid drove off, the neighbor got the suspect’s license plate number and called the police again.

The bodies of the victims were found in the house when firefighters rushed to the burning house on Friday. Firefighters “discovered the three adult victims lying on the floor near the front door,” Railsback said. Their bodies were pulled outside, where they were determined to be murder victims.”

The causes of the victims’ deaths were not immediately released. Arson was determined to be the cause of the house fire.

“This is another horrifying reminder of the predators that exist online and prey on our children,” Gonzalez said. “If you’ve already had a conversation with your kids about how to be safe online and on social media, have it again. If not, start it now to better protect them.”

“The process of meeting someone online and pretending to be someone you are not, for your own gratification, whether sexual or financial, whatever the case, is extremely common,” Officer Railsback said.

“Our hearts go out to the Winek family and their loved ones at this time of immense grief as this is a tragedy for all Riversiders,” said Riverside Police Chief Larry Gonzalez.

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