‘Catfishing’ cop shot himself with service weapon after killing California girl’s family, officials say

A home with boarded-up windows and black burn marks behind crime scene tape
On Nov. 29, workers attach a wooden cross to a boarded-up window at the burned home where three family members were killed four days earlier in Riverside.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

The Virginia sheriff’s deputy who killed three family members of a Riverside teenager he had allegedly been “grooming” used his service weapon to fatally shoot himself at the end of a chase with law enforcement, authorities said Friday.

Austin Lee Edwards, 28, a deputy with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, had “catfished” the 15-year-old girl, posing as someone else to form an exploitative relationship with her online, investigators said.

Last month, Edwards made the cross-country drive from Virginia and arrived at the Riverside home, where he killed Mark Winek, 69; his wife, Sharie Winek, 65; and their daughter Brooke Winek, 38, on Nov. 25 before setting fire to the home and leaving with Brooke Winek’s 15-year-old daughter.

Hours after he fled the scene, Edwards’ vehicle was spotted nearly 200 miles away in a remote part of San Bernardino County.


A SWAT team attempted to stop the vehicle, but Edwards led police on a pursuit during which he reportedly fired at the SWAT vehicle, striking it multiple times.

A cellphone video shows deputies from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office taking a trash bag from the Virginia property of Austin Lee Edwards.

Dec. 9, 2022

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department had originally said the pursuit ended when Edwards was shot by deputies after swerving off the road and exiting the vehicle. The girl was physically unharmed.

Last week, however, sheriff’s officials said Edwards’ cause of death had been determined to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

“Detectives determined the gun used was Edwards’ department issued semi-automatic service pistol,” the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said Friday in an email to The Times.

At the time of the incident, Edwards had been employed with the Washington County Sheriff’s Department for less than 2 weeks. He had previously had a short stint with Virginia state police before resigning Oct. 28.


It is still unclear how long Edwards and the girl had been in contact.

The deaths of the three people at the Riverside home are still under investigation.