Riverside County

‘It Can Happen Anywhere.' Daughter of Riverside Victims Warns Parents

Mark Winek, 69, his wife, Sharie Winek, 65, and their 38-year-old daughter, Brooke Winek were found dead Friday in a burning Riverside home, the tragic result of what authorities say was a catfishing scheme carried out by a Virginia law enforcement officer.

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A memorial continues to grow outside the burnt Riverside home where the Winek family lived for more than 20 years.

Three members of the family were murdered and the house was set ablaze after a law enforcement officer in Virginia who had been "catfishing" a teen in the family killed them, and kidnapped the girl.

During a press conference Wednesday morning, Mychelle Blandin thanked the neighbors for their love and support, and she also gave an important warning to parents everywhere.

"Nobody could imagine this crime happening to my family, to our family," Blandin said.

But the unthinkable did happen to Blandin's family. Her father Mark Winek, mother Sharie, and younger sister Brooke.

The last time she saw them was on Thanksgiving.

Austin Edwards is pictured in this photo provided by Virginia State Police.

One day later, Mark, Sharie and Brooke were found dead inside the Riverside home on Price Court where Mychelle grew up. She was at a store when a longtime friend and neighbor urgently called her in a panic.

"She called to tell that we needed to get there as soon as we could because my parent's house was on fire," she said.

Riverside police say inside her father mother and younger sister had been murdered.

Mychelle Blandin, whose parents and sister were killed at their Riverside home, speaks at a news conference. Michelle Valles reports for the NBC4 News at 11 a.m. on Wednesday Nov. 30, 2022.

"My sister Brooke was a loving single mom who did her best to raise her two teenage daughters in a loving way," she said. "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."

Investigators say the is the man who took their lives was 28-year-old Austin Lee Edwards, a law enforcement officer from Virginia who police say used a fake internet profile to appear to be a 17-year-old boy so he could have an online relationship with Brooke's 15-year-old daughter.

Residents attend a vigil for three family members found dead in Riverside. Darsha Philips reports for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. on Saturday Nov. 26, 2022.

"He took an oath to protect and yet he failed to do so. Instead he preyed on the most vulnerable," Blandin said.

Investigators say after killing the Winek family, Edwards set the home on fire and took the teenage girl with him in this red Kia. He later took his own life during a gun battle with deputies.

Thankfully Blandin's niece was safely rescued.

"Catfishing led to the deaths of the three most important people in my life: my dad, my mom, and my sister," she said.

That is why Blandin is is pleading with parents to talk to their kids about this tragedy so hopefully it won't happen to anyone else's family.

"Parents please know your child's online activity," she said. "If something like this horrific tragedy can happen here in our neighborhood and our community, it can happen anywhere."

Police say Brooke's other teenage daughter was not here during the murders, but her 15-year-old daughter is traumatized and currently being cared for by child protective services.
If you would like to help the family, you can donate to their GoFundMe account titled: Winek Family Fund.

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