15-year-old girl in ‘catfish’ murder not guilty: officers

California police say they do not believe the 15-year-old girl at the center of a “catfishing” case that resulted in the murders of her mother and grandparents was in cahoots with the suspected killer.

Riverside Police Department spokesman Ryan Railsback told TMZ investigators currently have no evidence to suggest the teenager is anything other than a victim of former Virginia state trooper Austin Lee Edwards.

Edwards, 28, was killed in a shootout with law enforcement on Friday after allegedly driving thousands of miles across the country and killing the family of the teenage girl he had met online under an assumed identity.

Railsback said police have not yet determined whether the 15-year-old was kidnapped by Edwards after the murders or went with him voluntarily — although a witness reported in a 911 call requesting a welfare check that the girl seemed distressed when she came in the suspect’s red weather. Kia Soul.

Firefighters and police gather outside a burned home in Riverside, California, where the three bodies were found.
AP
Edwards had been hired by the Washington County Sheriff's Office just 11 days before the killings.
Edwards had been hired by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office just 11 days before the killings.
Virginia State Police

According to the police spokesman, investigators are looking to find out if Edwards had committed other crimes related to “catfishing”. They will examine the contents of the suspect’s electronic devices and social media to delve into his past.

In an email to The Post, Railsback said police do not yet know how long Edwards and the teenage girl had been communicating online in the run-up to Friday’s violence.

He also said it was unknown what motivated Edwards to commit the murders.

“We have yet to come across anything that would give us any insight into why he murdered the teenager’s family,” Railsback said.

Mark Winek, 69, and Sharie Winek, 65, were found murdered in their burning Riverside, Calif., home on Friday.
Mark Winek, 69, and Sharie Winek, 65, were found murdered in their burning Riverside, Calif., home on Friday.
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Brooke Winek, 38, mother of the 15-year-old cat victim, was also killed.
Brooke Winek, 38, mother of the 15-year-old cat victim, was also killed.
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Edwards, who had left the Virginia State Police in late October, allegedly killed Mark Winek, 69, and Sharie Winek, 65, and their daughter Brooke, 38, before likely setting the family home on fire, authorities said.

He then put the 15-year-old girl in his car, which he had parked in a neighbour’s driveway, and took off, but the police were able to track them down a few hours later.

According to authorities, after being run off the road by pursuing officers, Edwards fired shots at them and was killed by deputies who returned fire.

Police believe Edwards set the victims' house on fire before driving off with the teenage victim.
Police believe Edwards set the victims’ house on fire before driving off with the teenage victim.
AP

The teenager in his car escaped unharmed and was arrested.

Edwards, of North Chesterfield, Virginia, had been hired by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office just 11 days before his alleged murder.

Officials released a statement Monday saying a background check turned up no troubling information about their new employee.

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