SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY, California (WRIC) — A former Virginia State Police trooper and recent employee of the Washington County, Virginia Sheriff’s Office accused of killing three members of a California family was shot and killed by police.
The suspect, identified as 28-year-old Austin Lee Edwards, of Chesterfield County, developed an online relationship with a teenage girl from Riverside, California while using online deception methods known as “catfishing,” according to a release.
Edwards obtained the teen’s personal information and traveled from Virginia to her home in Riverside, California, where police say he killed the teen’s grandmother, grandfather and mother inside their home, on Friday, Nov. 25. He then left the home with the teenage girl and traveled to San Bernardino.
Virginia State Police confirmed Edwards was hired and entered the police academy on July 6, 2021. He graduated on Jan. 21, 2022, as a trooper and was assigned to Henrico County, which is within the Richmond Division. Edwards resigned from his post on Oct. 28, 2022 — less than one month before the family was killed.
Riverside Police said officers received a report of a teen who “appeared distressed” while getting into a car with Edwards along the 11200 block of Price Court, the location of the victim’s home, Nov. 25 around 11 a.m.
As officers were responding to the distress call, they began receiving calls of a structure fire located at the victim’s home.
As the fire department arrived and began working to put out the blaze, crews found the three bodies of the teenager’s family members — identified as 69-year-old Mark Winek, his wife 65-year-old Sharie Winek, and their daughter, the teen’s mother, 38-year-old Brooke Winek — lying on the ground in the front entryway. The fire was eventually put out, but the exact cause and manner of their deaths are still pending.
Police said the cause of the fire is under investigation, although it is believed it was intentionally ignited.
Information on Edwards’ vehicle was given to local law enforcement agencies, and he was discovered several hours later driving through San Bernardino County with the teen. Police said Edwards fired gunshots at deputies and deputies shot back, killing Edwards.
The teen was unharmed and later placed into protective custody of the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services.
News Channel 11 reached out to Washington County Sheriff Blake Andis, who said the sheriff’s office is working on releasing more information.