SAN BERNADINO COUNTY, Calif. (WRIC) — A former Virginia State Police trooper and Chesterfield resident accused of killing three California family members 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,” the practice of pretending to be someone you’re not, 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 Bernadino.
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. He was most recently employed at the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Virginia.
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, on 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.
When 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 by the San Bernadino County Sheriff’s Department several hours later while driving through Kelso, a ghost town near the Mojave National Preserve, 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.
The Washington County Sheriff’s Office said past employers and Virginia State Police were contacted during Edwards’ hiring process, but that no troubles, reprimands, or internal investigations pertaining to him were disclosed.
“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,” said Washington County Sheriff Blake Andis.