Austin Lee Edwards was a Virginia police officer who kidnapped a teen girl after killing her mother, grandmother and grandfather and setting their California home on fire on November 25, 2022, Riverside Police said in a press release. Edwards was shot and killed by police after a chase, authorities said. The teen girl was rescued, police said.
Edwards, 28, of North Chesterfield, Virginia, met the girl online and convinced her to meet him while pretending to be younger, possibly posing as a teen, according to police. “The victims have been identified as 69-year-old Mark Winek, his wife 65-year-old Sharie Winek, and their daughter 38-year-old Brooke Winek,” Riverside Police said. Brooke Winek was the teen girl’s mother, according to her family and social media posts.
On November 25, police were called to a Riverside home for a report of a young woman who appeared to be distressed getting into a car with a man, according to police. Dispatchers also simultaneously received calls from a few houses away of a structure fire, police said.
“The Riverside Fire Department arrived first and reported a working fire on the first floor of the residence. They initiated a fire attack, made entry, then discovered three adult victims laying on the ground in the front entry way. Their bodies were pulled outside where it was determined they were victims of an apparent homicide. Firefighters continued their efforts until the fire was placed under control and eventually extinguished,” police said. “The exact cause and manner of their deaths are still pending. The cause of the house fire continues to be under investigation although it appears at this point to have been intentionally ignited.”
Here’s what you need to know about Austin Lee Edwards:
1. Austin Edwards Catfished the Teen Victim After Meeting Her Online, Police Said
According to Riverside Police, “On Friday, November 25, 2022, at approximately 11:08 a.m., Riverside Police Officers were dispatched to check the welfare of a young female who appeared distressed while getting into a Red Kia Soul with a man along the 11200 block of Price Court, located in the La Sierra South neighborhood of Riverside. While officers were responding, our Public Safety Communications Center began receiving calls of a structure fire just a few houses away from where the check the welfare call originated.” The teen girl’s family was found dead inside the home and police believe they were killed before the fire started, according to authorities.
The Riverside Fire Department said they found “a working fire with heavy fire conditions on the first floor” when they arrived at the scene. According to the fire department, “Fire attack was initiated and, as crews made entry, they discovered 3 adult victims lying on the ground in the front entry way. The victims were dragged to the outside where it was determined they were deceased. It appeared they were victims of homicide. Fireground operations were continued and the fire was placed under control.” The fire department’s arson investigators were assisting with the case.
“Detectives with the Robbery – Homicide Unit, along with Specialists from the Forensics Unit, responded and assumed the investigation. They have been assisted by the Riverside County Sheriff-Coroner’s Office, the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office, and Arson Investigators with the Riverside Fire Department,” Riverside Police said. “During the preliminary investigation, it was determined the young female described in the initial check the welfare call was a teenager who lived where the house fire and homicides occurred. The man she accompanied was eventually identified as 28-year-old Austin Lee Edwards of North Chesterfield, Virginia.”
According to Riverside Police, “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. It is believed Edwards had developed an online relationship with the teen and obtained her personal information. He travelled 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.”
Investigators are working to determine if there are any other victims connected to Edwards. Riverside Police Chief Larry Gonzalez said in a statement, “Our hearts go out to the Winek family and their loved ones during this time of tremendous grief, as this is a tragedy for all Riversiders. This is yet another horrific reminder of the predators existing online who prey on our children. If you’ve already had a conversation with your kids on how to be safe online and on social media, have it again. If not, start it now to better protect them.”
2. Edwards Opened Fire During the Chase & Was Shot Dead by Deputies, According to Police
According to police, after the fire and bodies of the Winek family were found, “Information was relayed to allied law enforcement agencies regarding this triple homicide and Edwards’ vehicle description while detectives sought warrants for his arrest and attempted to determine his current whereabouts. Several hours later, he was discovered driving with the teen through San Bernardino County when he was located by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department in the unincorporated area of Kelso. Edwards fired gunshots at deputies.”
Riverside Police said deputies returned fired and killed Edwards. “The teen was unharmed and later placed into protective custody of the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services,” police said. The department added, “This investigation is still ongoing and there are no other details to release at this time. Anyone with additional and relevant information should contact Detective Josh Ontko at (951) 353-7135 or JOntko@RiversideCA.gov, or Detective Bryan Galbreath at (951) 353-7105 or BGalbreath@RiversideCA.gov. Those wishing to remain anonymous can email RPDTips@RiversideCA.gov, or download and use the Riverside Police Department’s ‘Atlas 1’ mobile app by utilizing the ‘Send a Message’ feature.”
The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office said in a press release, “On Friday, November 25, 2022, at about 1:15 p.m., deputies from the Morongo Basin Station and Sheriff’s Aviation Unit observed a red Kia Soul traveling on Highway 247. The vehicle matched the description of a wanted vehicle related to a triple homicide in the city of Riverside. The driver of the vehicle, Austin Edwards, was also wanted in connection to the homicides and he was believed to be armed and dangerous.” The sheriff’s office added:
Both Sheriff’s Aviation and California Highway Patrol’s Aviation followed the vehicle from a distance until Sheriff’s Specialized Enforcement Division (SWAT) could catch-up. The vehicle traveled south on Highway 247, then east on Highway 62 and ultimately to Kelso Cima Road.
As SWAT intercepted Edward’s vehicle, Edwards fled and led deputies on a pursuit. During the pursuit, Edwards fired at the deputies. The volley of gunfire struck the SWAT vehicle numerous times. Edwards lost control of his vehicle and the pursuit ended when he drove off the road. The female victim exited the vehicle and was rescued by deputies. Edwards exited the vehicle and pointed a gun at the Sheriff’s helicopter and deputies fired at Edwards. Upon contact, Edwards was unresponsive and pronounced deceased at the scene.
According to the sheriff’s office, “Detectives from Sheriff’s Specialized Investigations Division responded to the scene and assumed the investigation. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department is investigating the attempted murder of the deputies and the lethal force encounter. The Riverside Police Department is investigating the triple homicide and any questions regarding the homicide should be directed to them.”
3. Austin Lee Edwards Became a Virginia State Trooper in January 2022 & Resigned in October
Edwards, who grew up in Richlands, Virginia, graduated from the Virginia State Police Academy in January 2022, according to a CBS 19 News report from the time. The report listed Edwards as a Pounding Mill resident and said he would be assigned to Henrico County as part of the Richmond Division. He was one of 58 new troopers to complete training as part of the 135th Basic Graduating Class.
According to WTVR, Edwards was hired and began his training with the Virginia State Police on July 6, 2021. He worked in Henrico County until his resignation from the Virginia State Police on October 28, 2022, the news station reported.
Details of why Edwards resigned from the Virginia State Police and information about any potential disciplinary issues or complaints against him during his time as a trooper were not immediately available. The Virginia State Police has not commented further about Edwards and it was not immediately clear if the agency was investigating the hiring process that led to him becoming a trooper.
4. Edwards Had Recently Been Hired as a Deputy by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Virginia
According to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Edwards had recently been hired by that department in Virginia as a deputy sheriff. Edwards was hired on November 16, 2022, and “recently began orientation to be assigned to the patrol division, the sheriff’s office said in a November 28 press release.
“Past employers and the Virginia State Police were contacted during the hiring processing; however, no employers disclosed any troubles, reprimands, or internal investigations pertaining to Edwards,” the sheriff’s office said. “This agency is currently assisting the Riverside Police Department in California with this investigation.”
Washington County Sheriff Blake Andis said in a statement, “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. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Winek family, their friends, officers, and all of those affected by this heinous crime.”
5. A GoFundMe Has Been Set Up to Help the Winek Family
A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to help the Winek family. Dean Porter, who organized the fundraiser, said on the campaign’s page, “Over the Thanksgiving weekend, Mark, Sharie, and Brooke Winek lost their lives in a horrific triple homicide. Mark Winek was a loving Father, Grandfather, Uncle, Brother, and Coach at Arlington High School. Sharie Winek was a sweet and caring Mother, Grandmother, Sister, and Aunt who cherished spending time with her family. Brooke Winek was a beloved single mother with the biggest heart and found her most immense joy in following her daughter in the Color Guard at Arlington High School.”
Porter added, “The proceeds from this GoFundMe will help cover the funeral expenses of the three family members and the ongoing support of the two teenage daughters, who lost their mother and need future care and support. Thank you for your contributions during this sorrowful time. Mark, Sharie, and Brooke will truly be missed.”
A neighbor, Bonnie Davis, told ABC 7, “I just want everyone to know how loving they were. They don’t deserve this. I’m not eating. I’m not sleeping. It just hit me very, very hard. They were just that type people that you would just never wake up to think that you would hear this of them.”