A memorial continues to grow outside of a Riverside home where three people were murdered on Friday, allegedly by a man who had traveled across the country to meet a teenage girl.
Authorities say Austin Lee Edwards, 28, drove from Virginia to the home in the 11200 block of Price Court where he killed the girl’s mother, grandfather and grandmother, and then set fire to the home.
Police initially responded to the area around 11 a.m. after someone reported a young woman who appeared to be in distress getting into a red Kia Soul. Around the same time, flames erupted from the two-story home.
Inside, firefighters discovered the bodies of Mark Winek, 69, his wife, Sharie Winek, 65, and their daughter, Brooke Winek, 38.
“Several hours later, (Edwards) 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,” Riverside Police said in a statement. “Edwards fired gunshots at deputies and a deputy-involved shooting occurred where he was subsequently pronounced deceased at the scene.”
The teen, who was unharmed, was placed in protective custody, police said.
Police say Edwards, who was once employed by Virginia State Police, met the teenager through a common form of online deception known as “catfishing” where someone takes on a false identity.
“Behind that screen or that phone or that computer, they’re a predator. They want nothing but to victimize these children for their own gratification,” Officer Ryan Railsback with Riverside Police told KTLA.
A Go Fund Me campaign has been established to help the Winek family.
“Our hearts go out to the Winek family and their loved ones during this time of tremendous grief, as this is a tragedy for all Riversiders,” stated Riverside Police Chief Larry Gonzalez. “This is yet another horrific reminder of the predators existing online who prey on our children. If you’ve already had a conversation with your kids on how to be safe online and on social media, have it again. If not, start it now to better protect them.”