RIVERSIDE, CA — A former Virginia State Police trooper reportedly took a teenage girl, killed her family, and burned down her house after traveling across the country to meet her. The former police officer then led authorities on a pursuit that resulted in a shootout, eventually killing the suspect.
Riverside Police were dispatched to conduct a welfare check on a young female “who appeared distressed while getting into a red Kia Soul with a man” on Friday, November 25th at around 11 a.m., a spokesperson for the department stated in a press release.
While officers responded to the welfare check, dispatch received calls of a structure fire a few houses down.
Riverside Fire arrived first and initiated a fire attack, the spokesperson said. They forcibly entered the residence and discovered three adults laying on ground in the entry way. Their bodies were pulled outside where officials determined that they were victims of a suspected homicide.
Investigators later discovered that the “young female described in the initial check the welfare call was a teenager who lived where the house fire and homicides occurred,” the spokesperson informed.
The homicide victims were identified as Mark Winek, 69, and Sharie Winek, 65, the teenager’s grandmother. Additionally, the third dead body was identified as Brooke Winek, 38, the teenager’s mother.
Although the teenager’s identity has not been released to the public, investigators did identify the man she accompanied as Austin Lee Edwards, 28, of North Chesterfield, Virginia.
Edwards previously worked in the Washington County Sheriff’s Department and for the Virginia State Police, according to California authorities.
Two hours after receiving the welfare check call, deputies found a red Kia Soul traveling on the highway, matching the earlier description, a spokesperson for San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department stated.
Both the Sheriff’s and California Highway Patrol’s aviation teams followed the car from a distance until Sheriff’s Specialized Enforcement Division (SWAT) could catch-up, the spokesperson said. As SWAT intercepted Edward’s car, the suspect fled and led deputies on a pursuit.
Edwards began to fire at law enforcement during the pursuit, hitting the SWAT vehicle “numerous times,” the spokesperson stated.
Eventually, Edwards lost control of his car and drove off the road.
Both Edwards and the teenage victim exited the vehicle. Edwards began to shoot at the hovering helicopter while the young girl was rescued by deputies, the spokesperson said.
Deputies fired their guns at Edwards who was pronounced “unresponsive” and “deceased” upon contact, the spokesperson confirmed.
The teen girl was physically unharmed during the encounter and placed into protective custody by Riverside County Department of Public Social Services.
San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department is investigating the lethal force encounter and Riverside Police are investigating the triple homicide.
Detectives determined that Edwards met and formed a bond with the teen online, the Riverside spokesperson said. The young girl then provided personal information to the culprit who later drove from Virginia to California.
“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,” Riverside Police Chief Larry Gonzalez advised.
©2022 Cox Media Group