Thursday, December 22, 2022

Riverside murders: VA man accused of catfishing teen daughter of 1 of victims before killing family

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RIVERSIDE, Calif. (KABC)– The killings of a couple and their daughter in Riverside allegedly stemmed from a catfishing incident involving the teenage daughter of one of the victims, police said.

According to an update released by the Riverside Police Department on Saturday, Mark Winek and his wife Sharie Winek, along with their 38-year-old daughter Brooke Winek, were killed by a man who was reportedly involved in an online relationship with the teenage daughter of one of them the victim.

A NOTICE: The video above is from a previous report on this case.

The incident happened the day after Thanksgiving.

At around 11:08 a.m., officers were dispatched to conduct a welfare check on “a young woman who appeared distressed” as she boarded a Red Kia Soul with a man along the 11200 block of Price Court.

As officers responded, calls came in about a fire just a few doors down from where the welfare check came in.

Firefighters from the Riverside Fire Department worked to put out the blaze and found the bodies of all three Winek family members lying on the ground in the front entryway.

“Their bodies were dragged outside, where it was determined that they were the victims of an apparent homicide,” the police statement said.

According to police, a preliminary investigation revealed the young woman described in the initial welfare call was a teenager living in the house where the fire broke out.

She was dating a man identified as 28-year-old Austin Lee Edwards of North Chesterfield, Virginia.

Detectives said Edwards met the young girl online “through the common form of online deception known as catfishing.”

Police said Edwards traveled to Riverside from Virginia, where they said he parked his vehicle in a neighbor’s driveway and walked to the teenager’s home.

“At one point he murdered the teenager’s grandfather, grandmother and mother before walking back to his vehicle with the teenager and leaving,” the police statement said.

Later that day, police say Edwards was found driving through San Bernardino County with the teenager when he was found by the county sheriff’s department in the unincorporated Kelso area.

Police said Edwards shot MPs and was shot dead by MPs shortly thereafter. The teenager was not injured.

Police said Edwards worked for the Virginia State Police before recently starting to work for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.

“Our hearts go out to the Winek family and loved ones at this time of tremendous sadness as this is a tragedy for all Riversiders,” said Riverside Police Chief Larry Gonzalez. “This is yet another terrifying reminder of the online predators that prey on our children. If you’ve already talked to your kids about staying safe online and on social media, do it again. If not, start now to better protect them.”

The exact cause of death of the Winek family remains unknown.

The cause of the house fire remains under investigation, although police said “it appears to have been started intentionally at this point”.

During a vigil Saturday, neighbors told Eyewitness News the Winek family had always been neighborly and made every effort to help the community. The victims’ families were present but declined to speak to the media.

Some said they were devastated.

“I just want everyone to know how loving they were. You don’t deserve this. I do not eat. I do not sleep. It just hit me really, really hard,” said Bonnie Davis, who said she’s lived next door to the Wineks for two decades. “They were just that kind of people that you would just never wake up to think you’d hear that from them.”

A woman, who asked only to be identified as Joi, organized Saturday’s vigil and told Eyewitness News she was new to the Riverside neighborhood before hearing the news.

“When I heard that news, I just fell on my stomach and I was like, ‘What do you mean they didn’t make it?'” she said.

Joi recalls that Mark Winek helped her when he found out she was a single mom. According to a GoFundMe set up for the family, he coached young athletes at Arlington High School.

“He immediately said, ‘I’ll mow your lawn, I’ll help you when you’re not here,'” Joi said.

Although the victims’ families did not speak directly to Eyewitness News, they did issue a public statement to those attending the vigil, saying, “Thank you for being here to honor my family and respect our privacy at this time.”

The investigation is ongoing and anyone with information is urged to contact Detective Josh Ontko at (951) 353-7135 or JOntko@RiversideCA.gov or Detective Bryan at (951) 353-7105 or BGalbreath@RiversideCA.gov to turn to Galbreath

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