On Friday, November 25, Austin Edwards, a suspect in a triple homicide in Riverside, California, was shot and killed by deputies with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.
Officials confirmed the identity of the suspect, who they said was formerly employed by Virginia State Police.
Austin Edwards, a 28-year-old man, was accused of kidnapping a teenage girl after killing her family at her home in Riverside's La Sierra neighborhood and then burning down the house.
Police identified the victims as the abducted teen’s 69-year-old grandmother Mary Winek, 65-year-old grandfather, Sharie Winek, and 38-year-old mother, Brooke Winek.
The suspect, who was believed to be armed and dangerous, then fled the scene with the abducted teenager before a SWAT team intercepted Edwards' car and shot him after he opened fire at the scene. Authorities said the teenager was safely recovered and taken into protective custody.
Riverside suspect catfished the young teenager before killing her family
As per CBS News, officers at the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Office said that the Riverside suspect, Austin Edwards, was involved in an online catfishing scheme where he targeted the teenager and traveled to California in pursuit of the young girl. In a press release, authorities said:
“It is believed Edwards had developed an online relationship with the teen and obtained her personal information. He traveled from Virginia to Riverside where he parked his car in a neighbor’s driveway and walked into the teen’s home.”
The Riverside Police Department said that around 11 am on November 25, officers responded to a welfare check of a young woman described as being in distress while getting into a car that belonged to the suspect. Police said that the welfare check call originated a few houses away from the scene of the fire that officers were reportedly investigating at the time.
At the scene of the house fire, police reportedly found the bodies of the three adults. Shortly after, a swat team was dispatched to track down the car of the suspect, a red Kia Soul, which was found on Highway 247.
According to authorities, Edwards then began firing at the officers while driving erratically, resulting in them veering off the road. He then stepped out of the car and began firing at law enforcement before he was shot dead at the scene.
Police said the teen, who was unharmed in the confrontation, was taken into protective custody. In a statement to CBS L.A., Riverside Police Chief Larry Gonzalez said:
"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."
Police have yet to release any details on the exact cause of the death of the Winek family. However, officials said that the fire at their home was intentional.