AN alleged catfish was accused of killing a teens’ mom and grandparents after the 15-year-old refused to send him nudes, police have revealed.
Austin Lee Edwards, 28, allegedly posed as a 17-year-old boy in a pedophilic ploy to trick an unsuspecting girl into sending him naked photographs.
The teen stopped sending messages to Edwards after he requested nudes from him, according to police.
The former state trooper from Virginia then traveled across the country to meet the teen at her California home in Riverside – which turned into a “gruesome” crime scene, as police described it.
He was able to obtain her personal information by deceiving her with a fake persona.
Cops believe Edwards parked his vehicle in a neighbor’s driveway, walked to the family’s home, and killed the teens’ mom and grandparents before setting their house on fire.
Police found the bodies of Mark Winek, 69, his wife Sharie Winek, 65, and their daughter Brooke Winek, 38, on Friday inside their burning home.
Neighbor Sergio Gutierrez told DailyMail he saw the victims’ bodies being carried out by first responders, and claimed they were bound and gagged.
“Their hands were tied behind their backs. One lady had tape over her mouth. It was frightening,” said Gutierrez.
Edwards allegedly left with the teen after killing her family, but police were able to locate them in San Bernardino County hours after they discovered the crime scene.
A shootout erupted between Edwards and the cops.
However, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department Coroner Division said Edwards died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, ruling his death a suicide.
The girl was not harmed and remains in protective custody.
She is also not believed to have been involved or had knowledge of the crimes that occurred, police said.
Mychelle Blandin, daughter of Mark and Sharie and sister to Brooke, said that a neighbor called the cops when they saw the teen in distress, entering an unfamiliar car.
“That call from that neighbor saved my niece’s life,” Blandin said in a trembling voice. “That neighbor is a hero in our eyes.”
On Wednesday, Blandin spoke out for the first time since the tragedy occurred.
“Catfishing led to the deaths of the three most important people in my life.. my dad, my mom, and my sister,” said Blandin.
“This started as an inappropriate online romance between a predator and a child,” she said.
Blandin added: “This was an adult that traveled across the country to kidnap a 15-year-old girl, my niece, our family member, with the idea to kidnap her and kill and devastate our family.
“He took an oath to protect and he failed to do so…”
Edwards was an ex-Virginia State police trooper who was hired as a sheriff’s deputy in Washington County just one week before he was accused of killing the family.
Washington County Sheriff Blake Andis was shocked at the alleged killer that walked among those meant to protect.
He said: “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.”
Blandin issued a warning of cyber safety for parents: “Parents, please know your children’s online activity. Ask questions about what they are doing and who they are talking to.”
“Use us an example… not out of fear, but tell our story to help your parenting.”
She added: “My family and I truly appreciate the love and compassion… nobody could imagine this crime happening to our family especially just one day after Thanksgiving.”