Ex-cop suspected of ‘catfishing’ teen and murdering her family dies in shootout

An ex-cop died during a shootout with police in a ghost town after his cross-county "catfishing" attempt to sexually exploit a teenager left three of the girl's family dead.

Austin Lee Edwards, 28, was killed on the day after Thanksgiving after he allegedly committed three murders in Riverside County, California.

Edwards became a Virginia state trooper in January this year before resigning in October, and was employed by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy, while awaiting his assignment.

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According to the Riverside Police Department, officers received a call about a teenage girl who “appeared distressed” as she was being led into a red Kia Soul with an older man.

The US news site Law & Crime said that while police responded, it was reported that there was a “structure fire a few houses away".

The police said: “The Riverside Fire Department arrived first and reported a working fire on the first floor of the residence

"“They initiated a fire attack, made entry, then discovered three adult victims laying on the ground in the front entry way. Their bodies were pulled outside where it was determined they were victims of an apparent homicide.”

The victims were identified as Mark Winek, his wife Sharie Winek, and the couple’s daughter Brooke Winek.

The resulting investigation determined the teenager lived with the three victims – her mother, grandfather, and grandmother.

Riverside police said their investigation found that Edwards met the girl “through the common form of online deception known as ‘catfishing’, where someone pretends to be a different person than they actually are”.

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After driving from Virginia to California, he is believed to have murdered the girl’s family, kidnapped her, then made his way north into nearby San Bernardino County, before he died in a ghost town.

Riverside police said: “Several hours later, he was discovered driving with the teen through San Bernardino County when he was located by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department in the unincorporated area of Kelso.

“Edwards fired gunshots at deputies and a deputy-involved shooting occurred where he was subsequently pronounced deceased at the scene.”

According to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, Edwards’ vehicle was identified by aircraft at around 1.15pm that day, with a SWAT team engaging in a gun battle.

The SBSD said: “The volley of gunfire struck the SWAT vehicle numerous times. Edwards lost control of his vehicle and the pursuit ended when he drove off the road.

"The female victim exited the vehicle and was rescued by deputies. Edwards exited the vehicle and pointed a gun at the sheriff’s helicopter and deputies fired at Edwards," adding: "Upon contact, Edwards was unresponsive and pronounced deceased at the scene.”

Washington County Sheriff Blake Andis added: “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.”


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