A Virginia law enforcement worker was killed in a shootout with California deputies after he allegedly murdered the mother and grandparents of a teenage girl he manipulated online.
Police in Riverside were called Friday morning to check on a girl who appeared to be distressed while getting into a car with a man, and they started receiving reports of a structure fire nearby when responding to the first call, and firefighters found the bodies of three adults inside the burning house, reported NBC News.
"Their bodies were pulled outside where it was determined they were victims of an apparent homicide," police said in a statement.
Investigators determined the girl who had left with the man lived at the home where the bodies were found, and they identified the man as 28-year-old Austin Lee Edwards, of North Chesterfield, Virginia, and discovered he had previously worked for the Virginia State Police until being recently employed at the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.
San Bernardino County sheriff's deputies tracked down Edwards near Kelso, as investigators said at least one deputy fatally shot him after he fired at them, but the girl was unharmed and then placed into protective custody with Riverside County social workers.
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"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," police said in a statement.
Edwards developed an online relationship with the girl and traveled to Riverside, and police said he killed the girl's mother and grandparents, identified as 69-year-old Mark Winek, his wife 65-year-old Sharie Winek, and their daughter, 38-year-old Brooke Winek.
“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,” said Riverside police chief Larry Gonzalez. “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.”