Investigators said she saw the man walking back to his car with the teen girl, who was reportedly not wearing any shoes or pants.
RIVERSIDE, Calif. (KABC) -- A neighbor who called 911 to try to help a 15-year-old girl in Riverside describes witnessing the suspect with the young girl before her family's home erupted in flames.
The grisly crime unfolded the day after Thanksgiving. According to investigators, 28-year-old Austin Edwards, a sheriff's deputy in Virginia, drove all the way to Southern California to meet the teen girl.
Police say Edwards killed the girl's mother, 38-year-old Brooke Winek, and her grandparents, Mark and Sharie Winek.
Before the crime unfolded, a neighbor down the street called police to report an unknown car with Virginia license plates parked in her driveway.
Investigators said she called police again about 30 minutes later after she saw Edwards walking back to his Red Kia Soul with the teen girl, who was reportedly not wearing any shoes or pants.
Police say the teen attempted to say something, but the neighbor said the girl could not get the words to come out of her mouth.
"She did seem and appear a little distressed, so it was concerning enough to these people to call," said Riverside PD Ofc. Ryan Railsback.
Moments later, the house in the 11200 block of Price Court, where Edwards and the girl had apparently came from, was on fire. Firefighters knocked down the blaze and found the bodies of all three Winek family members laying on the ground in the front entryway.
"And based on how they were found, it was pretty disturbing, it was obvious they died of homicide," said Railsback.
Since the neighbor who called in to report Edwards' car in her driveway had given the license plate number to police, it didn't take long for detectives to track him down.
A sheriff's helicopter spotted the suspect's vehicle on Highway 247 in the unincorporated area of Kelso and followed until a SWAT team responded. Authorities say Edwards, who was driving with the teen, led deputies on a chase and fired shots at deputies. He was shot and killed by deputies shortly after. The teen was not injured and is currently in protective custody, according to police.
"We believed for him to be armed and dangerous, of course we would, he just killed three people and he's in law enforcement, so things happen, this suspect's no longer going to be able to prey on anybody else," said Railsback.
Police believe the 28-year-old was pretending to be a teenager and believe it was one of the ways he was able to lure the teen. Police have since conducted an initial interview with the girl, but noted the investigation may take a while given the circumstances. They're trying to find out when and where the two met.
Edwards had worked for the Virginia State Police as a trooper and previously completed the Virginia State Police Academy in January 2022. He was hired by the Washington County Sheriff's Office in November 2022 and had recently began orientation to be assigned to the patrol division, according to investigators.
The Washington County Sheriff's Office said past employers and the Virginia State Police were contacted during the hiring processing and said "no employers disclosed any troubles, reprimands, or internal investigations pertaining to Edwards."
"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," said Washington County Sheriff Blake Andis.
The exact cause of the Winek family's deaths remain unknown.
During a vigil over the weekend, neighbors told Eyewitness News the Winek family was always neighborly and went out of their way to help the community. The victims' family was in attendance but did not wish to speak with the media.
"I just want everyone to know how loving they were. They don't deserve this. I'm not eating. I'm not sleeping. It just hit me very, very hard," said Bonnie Davis, who said she has lived next door to the Wineks for two decades. "They were just that type people that you would just never wake up to think that you would hear this of them."
Meanwhile, the Winek family issued the following statement on Monday.
"The Winek family would like to thank everyone for their love, support, prayers and patience during this horrific time in our lives. Mark, Sharie and Brooke were loving people who didn't deserve this tragedy.
We are still processing the new information provided by authorities and will be speaking further at a press conference in conjunction with the Riverside Police Department later this week. In the meantime, if you feel moved to do so, please donate to the GoFundMe page "Winek Family Fund" to support those left behind."