Cops: 'Catfishing' Leads to Triple Homicide

Former Virginia state trooper accused of killing 3 people, taking teen girl
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 28, 2022 1:52 PM CST
Cops: 'Catfishing' Leads to Triple Homicide
This photo provided by the Riverside Police Department shows Austin Lee Edwards, the suspect in a triple homicide in Southern California who died in a shootout with police.   (Riverside Police Department via AP)

Four people are dead in California after police say a man's internet catfishing scheme turned violent. Authorities in Riverside say Austin Lee Edwards, 28, struck up an online relationship with a teenage girl in the city by using a false identity—a ruse known as catfishing, reports USA Today. Edwards, who lived in Virginia and had worked as a state trooper there, drove across the country to the girl's residence, where he killed her grandparents and mother, according to a police news release.

Edwards then left with the girl, and a neighbor called police because the teen looked distressed getting into the vehicle, per CNN. When police responded to that call, they discovered a house fire and pulled the three murder victims from the residence. Authorities say Edwards set the fire after the murders, but they don't believe the girl had anything to do with the crimes. Hours later, police spotted Edwards in his car with the teen in San Bernardino County and began a pursuit that led to a shootout. Deputies fatally shot Edwards, but the teen was unharmed and is now under protective custody of the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services.

The three murder victims are identified as Mark Winek, 69; his wife, Sharie Winek, 65; and the teen's mother, Brooke Winek, 38. Edwards, who lived in North Chesterfield, Virginia, had been a state trooper for about a year until resigning in October for reasons that are unclear. He was then hired as a deputy sheriff in Virginia's Washington County on Nov. 16, per the AP. "If you've already had a conversation with your kids on how to be safe online and on social media, have it again," said Riverside Police Chief Larry Gonzalez. "If not, start it now to better protect them." (Catfishing schemes also are taking a toll on seniors.)

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