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California Man ‘Catfished’ Teen Before Murdering Her Family, Police Say

The Daily Beast 11/28/2022 Dan Ladden-Hall
Riverside Police Department © Provided by The Daily Beast Riverside Police Department

A teenage girl in California was “catfished” by a man who then murdered her mother and grandparents on Friday, police said.

Riverside Police Department was first alerted to the crimes when they received reports of a “young female who appeared distressed” as she was getting into a car with a man. As officers responded, a fire was reported just a few houses away from where the girl had been seen. Firefighters who tackled the blaze found three bodies lying on the ground inside. “Their bodies were pulled outside where it was determined they were the victims of an apparent homicide,” police said in a news release Sunday.

The victims were identified as Mark Winek, 69, his wife, Sharie Winek, 65, and their 38-year-old daughter, Brooke Winek. Preliminary investigations determined the distressed young female was Brooke Winek’s teenage daughter, who also lived at the property where the fire started. Authorities said it appeared the fire had been “intentionally ignited.”

The man seen with the teenage girl was later identified as Austin Lee Edwards, 28, of North Chesterfield, Virginia. As Riverside authorities alerted other agencies about the triple homicide, Edwards was found driving with the girl in Kelso. Edwards opened fire on deputies from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department before he was killed in the shootout.

The teenage girl was unharmed and has been placed in protective custody by the Riverside County Department of Public Services.

Detectives ultimately discovered that Edwards met the girl “through the common form of online deception known as ‘catfishing,’ where someone pretends to be a different person than they actually are,” police said.

It’s thought the pair entered into an online relationship during which Edwards obtained the girl’s personal information. He then drove from Virginia to Riverside and parked his vehicle on a neighbor’s driveway before walking 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,” police added.

Detectives also discovered that Edwards had previously worked for Virginia State Police before being more recently employed with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Virginia.

“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,” Riverside Police Chief Larry Gonzalez said in a statement.

“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.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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