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15-year-old girl in California ‘catfish’ triple murder not complicit, cops say

New York Post logo: MainLogo New York Post 11/30/2022 Snejana Farberov

California police say they do not believe the 15-year-old girl at the center of a “catfishing” case resulting in the murders of her mother and grandparents was in cahoots with the suspected killer.

Riverside Police Department spokesman Ryan Railsback told TMZ investigators at this time have no evidence to suggest that the teenager is anything but a victim of former Virginia state trooper Austin Lee Edwards.

Edwards, 28, was killed in a shootout with law enforcement Friday after allegedly driving thousands of miles across the country and killing the family of the teen girl he had met online under an assumed identity.

Railsback said police have not yet determined whether the 15-year-old was kidnapped by Edwards after the murders, or whether she went willingly with him — although a witness reported on a 911 call requesting a welfare check that the girl seemed distressed while getting into the suspect’s red Kia Soul.

© Provided by New York Post Edwards had been hired by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office just 11 days before the killings. Virginia State Police

According to the police spokesperson, investigators are looking to find out whether Edwards had committed other crimes related to “catfishing.” They will be examining the contents of the suspect’s electronic devices and social media sites to delve into his past.

In an email to The Post, Railsback said cops do not yet know how long Edwards and the teenage girl had been communicating online in the lead-up to Friday’s violence.

He also said it was unknown what motivated Edwards to commit the murders.

“We have not come across anything yet as to give us a glimpse on why he murdered the teen’s family,” Railsback stated.

© Provided by New York Post Mark Winek, 69, and Sharie Winek, 65, were found murdered inside their burning Riverside, California, home Friday. GoFundMe © Provided by New York Post Brooke Winek, 38, the mom of the 15-year-old catfishing victim, was also killed.GoFundMe

Edwards, who had quit the Virginia State Police in late October, allegedly killed Mark Winek, 69, and Sharie Winek, 65, and their daughter Brooke, 38, before likely setting the family’s house on fire, authorities said.

He then put the 15-year-old girl in his car that he parked in a neighbor’s driveway and took off, but police were able to track them down a few hours later.

According to the authorities, after being driven off the road by pursuing cops, Edwards fired shots at them and was killed by deputies returning fire.

© Provided by New York Post Police believe Edwards set fire to the victims’ house before driving off with the teenage victim. AP

The teen in his car escaped unharmed and was taken into protective custody.

Edwards, of North Chesterfield, Virginia, had been hired by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office just 11 days before his alleged murder rampage.

Officials released a statement Monday saying that a background check turned up no troubling information about their new employee.


New York Post

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