Family of Victims in 'Catfish' Killing Speaks Out

Relatives plead with parents to talk to their kids about online activities
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 1, 2022 12:34 AM CST
Family of Alleged 'Catfish' Killer's Victims Speaks Out
With her husband Ben at her side, Michelle Blandin, sister of Brooke Winek, and daughter of Mark and Sharie Winek, speaks during a press conference on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022, at the Riverside Police Department Magnolia station in Riverside, Calif.   (Watchara Phomicinda/The Orange County Register via AP)

Family members mourning the three people slain in what police describe as a murderous catfishing scheme are speaking out. "Parents, please know your child’s online activity, ask questions about what they’re doing and whom they are talking to. Anybody can say they’re someone else and you could be in this situation," said Michelle Blandin, who lost both her parents and her sister in the Riverside, California, murders last week. Mark Winek, 69, and Sharie Winek, 65, the grandparents of the 15-year-old girl who was duped in the scheme, were killed, as was their daughter—the girl's mother and Blandin's sister—Brooke Winek, 39.

Blandin described her sister as a loving single mom of two teen girls, CNN reports. Her 15-year-old daughter met Virginia police officer Austin Lee Edwards online and he pursued an "inappropriate online romance" with the girl, Blandin said, pretending to be a teen himself. Mark Winek's brother also spoke out at the press conference, per CBS News: "Any of us are impressionable—if you can imagine back when you were 15, it's just, you trust people." Police say the murders took place when Edwards came out to California to the girl's home, killing her mom and grandparents and leaving with her. Police have not yet said whether they consider it an abduction, nor whether the two had met in person previously.

The girl's younger sister was not home at the time. The girl was rescued and is currently undergoing extensive medical treatment, according to a family friend and attorney; Edwards was shot and killed in a gunfight with police. The coroner determined the wound to be self-inflicted, KTLA reports. "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," says the Washington County sheriff, whose office had just hired Edwards. (More California stories.)

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