By: Zachary Lopez (ZachNews)
Sources: Riverside Police Department and San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department (Information)
Pictures: NBC 4 LA (Courtesy)
La Sierra South, California: Family, friends and community continue to mourn and remember the 3 lives that were taken away in a triple homicide house fire during the morning on Friday, November 25th, 2022 by a law enforcement officer from Virginia who was reportedly ‘catfishing’ on a teen in the family.
According to Riverside Police Department Officer Ryan Railsback, officers from the Riverside Police Department conducted a welfare check at the home along the 11200 block of Price Court in La Sierra South, California between 10:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. PT; regarding some sort of disturbance that was reported between a man and a woman near a vehicle.
Riverside Police Department Officer Ryan Railsback said that before officers arrived and shortly after that call, some calls came into our dispatch center regarding a fire or smoke being seen at the same location.
At 11:01 a.m. PT, firefighters from the Riverside Fire Department responded to the scene, and when firefighters arrived saw smoke and flames coming from the front of the house, and were alerted that someone might be inside, and quickly searched the house fire.
Few minutes later, firefighters found 3 people in a room, pulled them out of the house fire, and were pronounced dead.
“They (firefighters) notified our officers they found 3 people deceased inside the house,” said Riverside Police Department Officer Ryan Railsback.
The Riverside Police Department believe all 3 family members were dead before the fire broke out.
The 3 victims have been identified as 69 year old Mark Winek; his wife, 65 year old Sharie Winek; and their daughter, 38 year old Brooke Winek.
On Wednesday, family members spoke during a news conference about this tragic death.
Michelle Blandin spoke about her family, saying “My sister Brooke was a loving single mom who did her best to raise her two teenage daughters in a loving way. My dad Mark, the silly old man, I also referenced him to be, was a soft spoken humble man who would go out of his way to help a friend or stranger in need… My mom Sharie, the matriarch of our family with the biggest giving heart imaginable, did anything and everything for everyone.”
Fighting back tears, Michelle Blandin recounted her final moments with her parents and sister on Thanksgiving Day.
“We had a family debate and it got heated – if the brownies my mom made should be frosted with sprinkles or just left plain. It seemed silly at the time, but that is a conversation that will forever resonate in my heart,” said Michelle Blandin.
Michelle Blandin recounted that the day after Thanksgiving Day, she received an urgent call from her parents’ neighbors, telling her to return to her parents’ home as soon as possible because it was on fire.
“When we arrived at my house, we realized something more tragic had happened,” said Michelle Blandin.
Picture: Austin Lee Edwards (Suspect): Virginia State Police (Courtesy)
According to the Riverside Police Department, the Wineks had come into contact with a suspect, identified as 28 year old Austin Lee Edwards who was a law enforcement officer who traveled from Virginia to abduct Brooke Winek’s 15 year old daughter.
Austin Lee Edwards reportedly used a fake internet profile to lie appearing to be a 17 year old boy so he could have an online relationship with teenager.
Investigators say after killing the Winek family, Austin Lee Edwards set the home on fire and took the teenage girl with him in this red Kia, and hours later the vehicle was located in the high desert area of San Bernardino County, California.
According to San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department’s Public Information Officer Gloria Huerta, at about 1:15 p.m., deputies from the Morongo Basin Station and Sheriff’s Aviation Unit observed a red Kia Soul traveling on Highway 247. The vehicle matched the description of a wanted vehicle related to a triple homicide in the city of Riverside. The driver of the vehicle, Austin Edwards, was also wanted in connection to the homicides and he was believed to be armed and dangerous.
Both Sheriff’s Aviation and California Highway Patrol’s Aviation followed the vehicle from a distance until Sheriff’s Specialized Enforcement Division (SWAT) could catch-up. The vehicle traveled south on Highway 247, then east on Highway 62 and ultimately to Kelso Cima Road.
As SWAT intercepted Edward’s vehicle, Edwards fled and led deputies on a pursuit. During the pursuit, Edwards fired at the deputies. The volley of gunfire struck the SWAT vehicle numerous times. Edwards lost control of his vehicle and the pursuit ended when he drove off the road. The female victim exited the vehicle and was rescued by deputies.
Initially, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department stated in their press release on Sunday, November 27th, 2022 that “Edwards exited the vehicle and pointed a gun at the Sheriff’s helicopter and deputies fired at Edwards. Upon contact, Edwards was unresponsive and pronounced deceased at the scene,” but that has recently changed.
The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department’s Corners Division on Tuesday, November 29th, 2022 released their completed autopsy on the suspect and said, “an autopsy was conducted on Austin Edwards by the San Bernardino County Coroner. The manner of death was determined to be suicide caused by a self-inflicted gunshot wound. No other information is available for release.”
According to the Riverside Police Department, the teenager was unharmed, and was placed in protective custody with the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services, and is currently undergoing extensive medical treatment.
The Riverside Police Department also said that there’s no evidence to indicate the teen girl was complicit in the crimes.
“This is going to be the most traumatizing event in her life, I am sure,” said Riverside Police Department Public Information Officer Ryan Railsback.
Well the investigation continues, the family and the community are asking why would somebody who was sworn to protect innocent lives, took innocent lives.
“He took an oath to protect and yet he failed to do so. Instead he preyed on the most vulnerable,” said Michelle Blandin.
Michelle Blandin thanked the neighbors for their love and support, and she also gave an important warning to parents everywhere.
“Catfishing led to the deaths of the three most important people in my life: my dad, my mom, and my sister. Parents please know your child’s online activity. If something like this horrific tragedy can happen here in our neighborhood and our community, it can happen anywhere,” said Michelle Blandin.
A GoFundMe account has been set up, with proceeds from this GoFundMe helping to cover the ongoing support of the 2 teenage daughters, who lost their mother and need future care.
If you would like to help the family, you can donate to their GoFundMe account titled “Winek Family Fund” at: https://www.gofundme.com/f/winek-family-fund
Our thoughts, prayers and condolences to the family and friends of Mark Winek; Sharie Winek; and Brooke Winek.