Former trooper killed after catfishing and kidnapping teen

(NewsNation) — A former Virginia trooper who police say catfished a teenage girl and murdered her family has been fatally shot.

The former Virginia state trooper has been identified as 28-year-old Austin Lee Edwards. Edwards traveled from Virginia to Riverside, California where law enforcement officials believe he killed the teenage girl’s family and took her with him to San Bernardino.

The teen has not been identified, but Edwards is said to have used a method known as catfishing, where someone creates a false identity online to deceive others. He formed an online relationship with the girl, in what law enforcement suggests was for the purposes of sexual exploitation.

The Riverside Fire Department was dispatched to a house fire where they found the bodies of Brooke Winek, the teen’s mother, along with Sharie and Mark Winek, the teen’s grandparents. The exact cause of death has not been determined.

Police were called out to a disturbance between a man and a teenage girl who “appeared distressed” shortly before the fire was reported.

Authorities believe Edwards parked his vehicle in a neighbor’s driveway, walked to the home and killed the family members before leaving with the girl.

Hours later, sheriff’s deputies from San Bernardino County tracked down Edwards and the girl when Edwards shot at police. Police fired back, killing him.

Riverside Police Chief Larry Gonzalez called the case “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.

The victims’ family has not released any statements on the incident.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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