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The man accused of killing a teen’s family after ‘catfishing’ her was hired by a Virginia sheriff’s office earlier this month

An inexperienced Virginia police officer pulled into a cul-de-sac in Riverside and parked close to the house of a teenage girl he had met online while posing as someone else, according to the police.

According to neighbors, the man alternated between his car and the house on Friday morning as he waited for the 15-year-family old’s to arrive home.

Police received a call about a young woman getting into a red Kia Soul with a male driver who appeared to be upset. The home caught fire after neighbors heard argumentative noises.

According to Riverside police spokesperson Ryan Railsback, firefighters from Riverside discovered three adults dead in the front door of the house. The deaths were quickly deemed to be homicides. Afterward, the suspect and the girl were gone. 

The victims were revealed to be Mark Winek, 69, Sharie Winek, 65, and Brooke Winek, 38, who shared a home with Mark and Sharie’s two teenage daughters.

Police claim that North Chesterfield, Virginia resident Austin Lee Edwards, 28, killed the three people before driving off with the teenager in his car. The cause and manner of the deaths are being investigated, according to Railsback, who described it as a “very disturbing crime scene.” Although the cause of the fire is unknown, according to him, it appears to have been “intentionally ignited.”

According to a statement from the sheriff-coroner, authorities located Edwards’ vehicle several hours later, nearly 200 miles from the residence, in Kelso, a community in unincorporated San Bernardino County.

Edwards refused to give up when a SWAT team tried to stop his car, instead leading local deputies on a chase and firing multiple shots at the SWAT vehicle, according to authorities.

San Bernardino deputies were able to save the teen, who was inside the vehicle throughout the chase after Edwards eventually drove off the road, according to the statement. According to San Bernardino deputies, when Edwards got out of his car and pointed a gun at a Sheriff’s Department helicopter, deputies opened fire, killing Edwards.

The teen was unharmed in the encounter, according to Railsback. He claimed that although investigators are looking over the “digital crime scene” and interviewing witnesses, it was not immediately clear whether Edwards had threatened or pressured her.

Detectives discovered that Edwards had met the teen using the “catfishing” technique of online fraud, which involves creating a false identity to entice a target.

According to officials, Edwards was hired as a deputy for the Virginia Washington County Sheriff’s Office about ten days before he arrived in Riverside. He had previously worked as a Virginia State Police officer.

None of Edwards’ prior employers, according to Andis and a representative for the Virginia State Police, disclosed any problems with him. Edwards worked for the state police for 15 months, and during that time, according to state police spokesperson Corinne Geller, he “never exhibited any behaviors to trigger any internal administrative or criminal investigations.” She stated that he passed both the psychological and background checks without showing “any indicators of concern.”

Geller claims that Edwards left the Virginia State Police on October 28 and joined the Sheriff’s Office about three weeks later.

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