Former Virginia State Police trooper killed in shootout after triple-murder in California
A man who drove across the country to kill the mother and grandparents of a teen that he’d met online is a former Virginia State Police trooper.
Austin Lee Edwards, 28, of North Chesterfield, died in a shootout with police in San Bernardino County hours after abducting the teen on Friday.
Edwards was among 58 graduates of the Virginia State Police Training Academy in January. According to a Jan. 24 report in Augusta Free Press, Edwards was assigned to Henrico County after graduation from the training academy.
According to Virginia State Police, Edwards resigned his post with VSP on Oct. 28.
He was most recently employed with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.
The teen was unharmed and is now in protective custody in Riverside County.
According to Riverside Police, Edwards had met the girl online, and in the course of their virtual relationship was able to obtain her personal information.
Edwards drove from Virginia to California, reaching the teen’s neighborhood on Friday morning, parking his car in a neighbor’s driveway and walking to the home, where he murdered the teen’s grandfather, 69-year-old Mark Winek, her grandmother, 65-year-old Sharie Winek, and her mother, 38-year-old Brooke Winek, before walking back to his vehicle with the teen, who lived at her grandparents’ home with her mother.
“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,” Riverside Police Chief Larry Gonzalez said in a statement on the shocking crime.
“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,” Gonzalez said.
Police were dispatched to the scene after receiving a call about a young female who appeared distressed while getting into a vehicle with a man, and the fire department was also summoned at the report of a structure fire.
The Riverside Fire Department arrived first and reported a working fire on the first floor of the residence. They initiated a fire attack, made entry, then discovered three adult victims laying on the ground in the front entry way.
The bodies were pulled outside, where it was determined they were victims of an apparent homicide.
The exact cause and manner of their deaths are still pending.
The cause of the house fire continues to be under investigation, although it appears at this point to have been intentionally ignited.
Information was relayed to law enforcement agencies regarding the triple homicide and Edwards’ vehicle description while detectives sought warrants for his arrest and attempted to determine his whereabouts.
Several hours later, he 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.
As a SWAT team intercepted Edward’s vehicle, Edwards fled and led deputies on a pursuit, firing at deputies as he fled. The volley of gunfire struck the SWAT vehicle numerous times.
Edwards lost control of his vehicle, and the pursuit ended when he drove off the road. The female victim exited the vehicle and was rescued by deputies.
Edwards exited the vehicle and pointed a gun at the sheriff’s helicopter, and deputies fired at Edwards. Upon contact, Edwards was unresponsive and pronounced dead at the scene.