A former Virginia state police officer has been accused of “fishing” a teenage girl before killing her mother and grandparents in a home in California, authorities say.
Austin Lee Edwards, 28, was killed in a shootout with police outside of Los Angeles after driving across the country to meet the youth on Friday (November 25).
Riverside Police Department investigators say Edwards met the girl online and lied to her using a false identity before obtaining her personal information.
Here’s what we know about the chilling and tragic case:
Who is Austin Lee Edwards?
Edwards, of North Chesterfield, Virginia, previously worked for the state police and a state sheriff’s department.
Police say he set fire to the victims’ Riverside home before leaving the scene with the girl on Friday. Later that day, he was shot and killed by deputies from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department after they found him with the girl.
Officials say law enforcement was first called to the home after a man and girl were seen arguing in the street near a car.
Investigators believe Edwards parked his car in a neighbor’s driveway before going into the girl’s home and killing her grandparents, Mark Winek, 69, his wife Sharie Winek, 65, and their 38-year-old daughter Brooke Winek.
Officers arrived at the scene and found the victims in the entryway of the home that had been set on fire.
First responders “determined they were victims of an apparent homicide,” police said.
Edwards graduated from the Virginia State Police Academy in January 2022 and was hired by the agency as a soldier.
He was then hired by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office on November 16, 2022 and was oriented to join the Patrol Department.
“It is shocking and saddening to the entire law enforcement community that such a wicked and evil individual is able to infiltrate law enforcement while hiding their true identity as a computer thief and murderer. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Winek family, their friends, officials and everyone affected by this heinous crime,” said Washington County Sheriff Blake Andis.
The agency says there were no red flags or issues during the hiring process.
Riverside Police Chief Larry Gonzalez said the incident was “another horrifying reminder of the online predators preying on our children.”
“If you’ve already talked to your kids about staying safe online and on social media, do it again. If not, start now to better protect them,” Chief Gonzalez said.