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Virginia Cop grooms and murders young girl's family, what can be done to protect our youth?

The day after Thanksgiving: Many families were winding down after an eventful holiday. Many students were on break, while others had days off from work or school. For one family, that day took a devastating turn. 

A former police officer from Virginia had been using grooming tactics which were taught to officers as something to be wary of, to solicit photos and trade gifts to gain the 15-year-olds trust. The officer played the part of a 17-year-old boy and began to flirt and seduce this 15-year-old then drove to Riverside, California, and murdered three people, including the girl's grandmother, grandfather, and mother.

The ex-cop led the girl into a red Kia Soul, lit a fire inside the home, and drove away with the girl. As the man, later identified as 28-year-old Austin Lee, fled the scene, Riverside police worked with other county officers in the Southern California area until the police of San Bernadino county eventually apprehended him. Once the San Bernadino police found the described car and individual, a shootout ensued, resulting in 28-year-old Austin Lee being pronounced dead at the scene by a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Catfish cop Austin Lee

According to a press release by the City of Riverside, "the 15-year-old girl was later placed into protective custody of the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services.” While the story has wrapped up in Riverside county, some are anxiously awaiting justice to be handed out. Whether that be an investigation into the individual or his police life. How or when did he develop these tactics? When did they turn violent? How can justice be served now that the former officer has passed?

Catfishing statistics in the United States

During a press conference with the Winek family, they expressed sadness and outrage at what had transpired. They recounted stories of their family talking about brownies and how carefree and happy they were discussing them. The aunt of the child who was abducted pled to everyone listening, "please, please be aware of your children's online presence…so that nothing like this can ever happen again…it started with an inappropriate online romance and ended in tragedy.” She talked about the hero neighbors who saved the girl, discussed ways to help monitor other children, and recounted guidelines that might help other parents. 

She said she doesn’t applaud the man's death but instead cries out, “he took an oath to protect, and yet, failed to do so…instead he preyed on the most vulnerable.” She goes on to warn others about the dangers of online actions and to please use the Winek family as an example. Not out of fear but out of example. To show something that did happen.

While this story leaves many with more questions and leaves a young girl motherless, a few can be at peace knowing that the predator officer is out for the count. What ideas do police officers and other experts have to keep things like this from happening? 

There are many resources online, such as the Victim Service Center of Central Florida. The site offers resources such as a 24-hour phone line that connects you to a lifeline for people affected by or know someone affected by grooming. According to their website, good red flags for parents to look for if their child has been suspected of being groomed are, “ Wanting to spend more time online, being secretive about whom they are talking to online, switching screens, expressing hostile or volatile behavior, and using sexual language that is age-innaporpriate.” While this isn’t a sign to go through someone's phone without their consent, if a child has been expressing these behaviors, it might be a legitimate reason to go through someone's phone to protect them from online grooming. 

A good way for parents or others to be vigilant is to educate children early to look out for signs of grooming: To be wary of individuals trying to get information from them as a young child navigating the internet. At the very least, monitor them for the first few years since the internet can be such a scary place throughout any age as time progresses. 

According to, an idea mentioned within the article is, "Rather than banning kids from going online, introduce more freedoms as they get older, but be wary of risks and make sure they are comfortable discussing risks and experiences with you". Knowing the signs and being wary of how children go about online interactions can l better protect children and lower the risk of having something similar to the Riverside case happen to a child in your life. Whether it be in your own family or your close circle. If you would like to learn more and donate to the family or listen to the press release on Facebook, you can find them here and here respectively.




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Tags: #Murder #sextrafficking #Grooming #KillerCop #corruptcop


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