‘They don’t deserve this,’ authorities say of a man who ‘catfished’ a teen girl before killing family.

According to investigators, the killings of a husband and wife and their daughter in Riverside were supposedly the result of a catfishing episode involving one of the victims’ teenage daughter.

According to a Riverside Police Department update provided on Sunday, Mark Winek, his wife Sharie Winek, and their 38-year-old daughter Brooke Winek were killed by a guy who was allegedly involved in an internet relationship with Brooke’s adolescent daughter.

Everything happened the day after Thanksgiving.

Officers were dispatched about 11:08 a.m. to do a welfare check on “a young female who appeared distressed” as she got into a Red Kia Soul with a man.

While cops were responding, calls began to come in about a fire a few homes down from where the welfare check originated.

Riverside Fire Department firefighters tried to extinguish the fire and discovered the deaths of all three Winek family members laying on the ground in the front entry way.

“Their bodies were pulled outside where it was determined they were victims of an apparent homicide,” police said in a statement.

A preliminary investigation indicated that the young female identified in the initial welfare check call was an adolescent who resided at the home where the fire broke out, according to police. She was with a man named Austin Lee Edwards, 28, of North Chesterfield, Virginia.

According to detectives, Edwards met the underage girl online “through the common form of online deception known as catfishing.”

According to police, Edwards drove to Riverside from Virginia, where he parked his car in a neighbor’s driveway and strolled to the teen’s house. According to investigators, Edwards enticed the adolescent into an online romance.

“We had a grandmother, grandfather and a mother of this teen murdered by this suspect who traveled from across the country for, most likely, the sexual exploitation of this teenager,” RPD Ofc. Ryan Railsback said on Sunday during an interview with our Los Angeles sister station, ABC7 Eyewitness News. “What happened here in terms of the ‘catfishing’ as they call it … that common practice of, you know, online deception where you’re pretending to be someone else.”

Later that day, Edwards was discovered driving with the teen through San Bernardino County by the county sheriff’s department in the unincorporated town of Kelso.

Deputies shot and killed Edwards after he fired rounds at them, according to police. According to officials, the teen was not wounded and is safe.

According to investigators, Edwards previously worked for the Virginia State Police before joining the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.

“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 simply another horrifying reminder of the cyber predators who prey on our children. If you haven’t previously discussed online and social media safety with your children, do it now. If you haven’t already, start now to better protect them.”

The precise reason of death for the Winek family is unknown.

The cause of the house fire is still being investigated, while police stated that “it appears at this point to have been intentionally ignited.”

Neighbors told Eyewitness News at a vigil on Saturday that the Winek family was always neighborly and went out of their way to aid the community. The victims’ families were present but refused to speak with the reporters.

Some have expressed their grief.

“I simply want everyone to know how wonderful they were. They do not deserve it. I’m not eating anything. I’m not going to sleep. It just hit me like a ton of bricks “Bonnie Davis, who has lived next door to the Wineks for two decades, agreed. “They were just that type people that you would just never wake up to think that you would hear this of them.”

The vigil was arranged by a woman who only wanted to be identified as Joi, who told Eyewitness News she was new to the Riverside community before hearing the news.

“When I heard that news, I just dropped to my stomach like, ‘What do you mean they didn’t make it?'” she added.

Joi recalls Mark Winek stepping up to assist her after learning she was a single mother. He coached young athletes at Arlington High School, according to a GoFundMe page set up for the family.

“He said right away, ‘I’m going to mow your lawn, I’m going to help you out when you’re not here,'” Joi explained.

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

The family stated that they may issue another statement on Monday.

Anyone with information should contact Detective Josh Ontko at (951) 353-7135 or JOntko@RiversideCA.gov, or Detective Bryan Galbreath at (951) 353-7105 or BGalbreath@RiversideCA.gov.

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