Man who kidnapped teen, murdered her family and set house on fire was former Virginia state trooper

A man who was gunned down by police last week after he kidnapped a California teen, murdered several members of her family and set their house on fire was a formerVirginia state trooper, authorities said Monday.

Austin Lee Edwards graduated from the state trooper academy in January 2022 and worked there until he was hired by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Virginia earlier this month, the sheriff’s department said in a statement.

“It is shocking and sad to the entire law enforcement community that such an evil and wicked person could infiltrate law enforcement while concealing his true identity as a computer predator and murderer. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Winek family, their friends, officers, and all of those affected by this heinous crime,” said Washington County Sheriff Blake Andis.

The sheriff’s department said no issues were raised by Edwards’ former employers during the hiring process.

Edwards, 28, traveled to California from Virginia after getting the teenage girl’s personal information online, according to the Riverside police department. On Nov. 25, Edwards allegedly murdered the girl’s grandparents, Mary Winek, 69, and Sharie Winek, 65, and 38-year-old Brooke Winek, her mother, at a home in Riverside, Calif. before kidnapping the girl.

Police were called around 11 a.m. after a girl in distress was seen getting into a red Kia Soul with a man, officials aid. A house fire was reported nearby soon after, and the Riverside Fire Department found three bodies in the home. The fire was believed to have been set intentionally.

The cause of death for the three victims has not been released.

Several hours later, Edwards was shot and killed by San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department deputies after a pursuit and shootout. The girl was found safe and taken into protective custody.

Police later determined that Edwards had “catfished” the girl — he pretended to be someone else online to gain the teenager’s trust and information.

“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. “This is yet another horrific reminder of the predators existing online who prey on our children.”