Man accused of killing teen's family after 'catfishing' her was a former police officer as new details emerge

Emma Guinness

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Man accused of killing teen's family after 'catfishing' her was a former police officer as new details emerge

Featured Image Credit: Riverside Police/GoFundMe

A man who is accused of murdering the family of a teen he catfished online was a former police officer, it has been revealed.

Austin Lee Edwards, 28, died on Thursday (24 November) in a police shootout after allegedly taking the lives of an unidentified teenager's mum and grandparents in Riverside, California.

The police department said in a news release that the teenager, who was not harmed in the incident, was catfished by the stranger online.

In case you are unfamiliar with the term, catfishing is the process whereby someone dramatically misrepresents themselves on the internet for personal gain.

Authorities arrived at the scene after concerns were raised for the welfare of the teenager.

As this was happening, firefighters were alerted to a blaze in the neighbourhood, and they arrived to find the bodies of three members of her family, who all died in what was concluded to be a homicide outside the burning home.

The house fire appears to have been started deliberately.

Austin died in a shootout after committing a suspected triple homicide. Credit: Riverside Police Department
Austin died in a shootout after committing a suspected triple homicide. Credit: Riverside Police Department

The suspect, Edwards, 28, had been employed by the Washington County, Virginia, Sheriff's Office since 16 November, and he was being orientated in preparation for joining the patrol division.

He had previously been employed by Virginia State Police, but he resigned on 28 October.

Washington County Sheriff Blake Andis said of the incident: "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."

Brooke Winek lost her life after her daughter was apparently catfished. Credit: GoFundMe
Brooke Winek lost her life after her daughter was apparently catfished. Credit: GoFundMe

Authorities are now encouraging parents to teach their children more about online safety in a bid to prevent a similar tragedy from taking place in future.

Riverside Police Chief Larry Gonzalez said: "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."

One of the apparent victims of the suspected catfisher was Mark Winek, 69. Credit: TikTok
One of the apparent victims of the suspected catfisher was Mark Winek, 69. Credit: TikTok

It is believed that the 28-year-old struck up a relationship with the teenage girl online and that is how he discovered her address.

While he did initially flee the scene of the murders with the teen, he was eventually reprimanded in the aforementioned shootout that resulted in his death.

"The Winek family would like to thank everyone for their love, support, prayers and patience during this horrific time in our lives. Mark, Sharie, and Brooke were loving people who didn’t deserve this tragedy," the family said.

They added that they will hold an official conference about the deaths later this week, but are currently taking time to process the losses.

The teenager is now in the protective custody of the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services.

Washington County said that there were no signs of concern about Edwards, past or present, prior to the incident.

UNILAD has reached out to Washington County Sheriff's Office and Virginia State Police for comment.

Topics: News, US News

Emma Guinness
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