RIVERSIDE, Calif. - The loved ones of a family in Riverside allegedly murdered by a man who died in a shootout with police after he drove across the country to meet a teenage girl before killing three members of her family spoke out Monday following the "horrific tragedy."
"The Winek Family would like to thank everyone for their love, support, and prayers during this horrific time in our lives. Mark, Sharie, and Brooke were loving people who did not deserve this tragedy," the family said. "We are still processing the new information provided by authorities…. if you feel moved to do so, please donate to the GoFundMe page to support those left behind."
The bodies of Mark Winek, 69, his wife, Sharie Winek, 65, and their 38-year-old daughter, Brooke Winek, were found Friday inside a home in Riverside that was likely set on fire by the suspect, Austin Lee Edwards, 28, police said.
Mark Winek was a baseball and softball coach at Arlington High School.
"Our hearts are broken and we send all of our love to the Winek family and everyone affected by this tragedy," the Riverside Unified School District said in a statement. "His passion for the game and students will be extremely missed."
Deputies exchanged gunfire with Edwards after locating him with the teenager later that day nearly 200 miles away, according to authorities. According to a coroner's report, Edwards died by suicide from a self-incflicted gunshot wound.
The teenager was unharmed and taken into protective custody by the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services, police said.
According to officials, Edwards met the girl online and "catfished" her, pretending to be someone he wasn't. After he developed a relationship with her, authorities said Edwards got her personal info and traveled from Virginia to Riverside to see her. Edwards allegedly parked his car in a neighbor's driveway, walked to the girl's home, and murdered her mom and grandparents before leaving with the teen.
Edwards was hired by the Virginia State Police and entered the police academy on July 6, 2021. He graduated as a trooper on Jan. 21, 2022, and was assigned to Henrico County within the agency’s Richmond Division until his resignation on Oct. 28.
Edwards was hired as a deputy in Washington County, Virginia, on Nov. 16 and had begun orientation to be assigned to the patrol division, the sheriff’s office said in a statement. During the hiring process, "no employers disclosed any troubles, reprimands, or internal investigations pertaining to Edwards," the statement said.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Family and neighbors mourn Riverside triple murder victims
The Winek family said it would be holding a press conference "later this week" to speak further on the events.
"Mark Winek was a loving Father, Grandfather, Uncle, Brother, and Coach at Arlington High School. Sharie Winek was a sweet and caring Mother, Grandmother, Sister, and Aunt who cherished spending time with her family. Brooke Winek was a beloved single mother with the biggest heart and found her most immense joy in following her daughter in the Color Guard at Arlington High School," according to the GoFundMe page for the family.
If you'd like to donate to the Winek Family Fund, tap or click here.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.