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Virginia man allegedly kidnapped teen after murdering her family

A former Virginia state trooper allegedly kidnapped a California teenage girl he had been catfishing online — after murdering her family, according to police.

Authorities say Austin Lee Edwards, 28, drove more than 2,500 miles across the country to Riverside to meet the teen Friday.

Edwards then allegedly killed the girl’s grandparents and mom and set fire to her home before taking off with the victim.

Deputies from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department tracked down Edwards and fatally shot him later that day, according to law enforcement.

The juvenile victim who was found with Edwards was unharmed and taken into protective custody by the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services.

Austin Lee Edwards, 28, who served with the Virginia State Police until late October, drove cross country to Riverside, California, Friday.
Mark Winek, 69, right, and his wife, Sharie Winek, 65, left, were found murdered outside their Riverside, California, home Friday morning.
Mark and Sharie's daughter, Brooke Winek, 38, was killed along with her parents.

Edwards, from North Chesterfield, Virginia, met the girl online and obtained her personal information by passing himself off as someone else, in a practice commonly known as “catfishing,” the Riverside Police Department said in a press release.

It is unclear how long the two were communicating.

The shocking incident began unfolding just after 11 a.m. Friday when police in Riverside got a call for a welfare check concerning a man and young woman involved in a disturbance near a car.

Investigators later determined the two people were Edwards and the teenager, who “appeared distressed” when getting into a red Kia Soul in the 11200 block of Price Court.

Dispatchers were then alerted to smoke and a possible fire a few houses away from where police were called for the welfare check.

The Riverside Fire Department discovered three adults laying in the front entryway and took them outside, where first responders “determined they were victims of an apparent homicide,” police said.

It is suspected that Edwards also set fire to the Winek family's home before kidnapping Brooke Winek's teenage daughter.

The bodies found in the scorched Riverside home were identified as the abducted teen’s grandparents and mother — Mark Winek, 69, his wife, Sharie Winek, 65, and their 38-year-old daughter Brooke Winek.

Police have not revealed their causes of death as of Monday but they believe Edwards traveled across the country, parked his car in a neighbor’s driveway, walked to the teen’s home and killed her family before leaving with the girl.

The cause of the fire was under investigation, but appeared to have been “intentionally ignited,” police said. It is unclear if the grandparents and mother were killed before the fire was allegedly set.

Riverside authorities distributed a description of Edwards’ car to law enforcement agencies and several hours later police located the car with Edwards and the teenager in Kelso in San Bernardino County.

Edwards fired gunshots and was killed by deputies who returned fire, police said.

Police rescued the teen girl after tracking down Edwards hours later.

Edwards was hired by the Virginia State Police and entered the police academy on July 6, 2021. He graduated as a trooper on Jan. 21, 2022, and was assigned to Henrico County within the agency’s Richmond Division until his resignation on Oct. 28.

Edwards also worked for the Washington County Sheriff’s Department in Virginia, authorities in California said.

Riverside Police Chief Larry Gonzalez called the case “yet another horrific reminder of the predators existing online who prey on our children.”

During a vigil held Saturday, friends and neighbors described the Wineks as a caring and loving family who were deeply involved in their community.

“You can’t ask for a better friend than Mark,” Ron Smith, Mark Winek’s friend of 30 years, told The Mercury News. “There’s going to be a hole in my heart that’s going to be hard to fill.”