Virginia state trooper who catfished girl, 15, pretending to be 17
The Virginia trooper who drove 2500 miles across the country after catfishing a 15-year-old girl in California used his own service weapon to kill himself
It was previously reported that Austin Lee Edwards had been killed by California deputies
The latest revelation about 28-year-old Edwards, comes as it’s also revealed that coworkers took items from his home before an official search began
Edwards is believed to have killed the teen girl’s mother and grandparents
The trooper also allegedly set fire to the property after the murders took place
At the time of the incident, Edwards had been employed with the Washington County Sheriff’s Dept. for less than 2 weeks
He had previously had a short stint with Virginia state police before resigning on Oct. 28
The Virginia trooper who catfished a 15-year-old Southern California girl and murdered three members of her family used his own service weapon to kill himself, officials now say.
Austin Lee Edwards, 28, took his own life during a shootout with deputies from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department after a cross-country drive to the girl’s Riverside, California home where he shot and killed three members of her family before setting the house on fire.
The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department confirmed the information to the Los Angeles Times on the same day it was revealed the state trooper’s co-workers in Virginia removed items from his home before an official search took place.
Edwards’ colleagues allegedly removed a sheriff’s truck and a black trash bag from the man’s Abingdon, Virginia, home on November 25, the same day the murders took place in California.
Officials from the Riverside Police Department told the Southern California outlet they were not privy to the removal of the items.
Edwards had made the 2,500-mile journey to the girl’s home after he deceived her with a false identity, claiming he was a 17-year-old boy.
Upon arrival at the girl’s residence, he killed her grandparents Mark Winek, 69; his wife, Sharie, 65, along with their daughter Brooke Winek, 38.
killings done, Edwards then set fire to the home and drove away with Brooke’s 15-year-old daughter.
It was originally reported that Edwards died during the shootout with police, seemingly at the hands of officers returning gunfire.
A SWAT team had attempted to pull over Edwards’ vehicle, which also had the 15-year-old girl inside, but he refused to stop and a chase ensued. SWAT team members fired numerous shots at the vehicle which they believed to be the man’s cause of death.
Initially, officials said the chase ended when the man swerved off the road and was shot after exiting the vehicle. On Friday, however, that information was walked back by law enforcement who continue to investigate the incident.
‘Detectives determined the gun used was Edwards’ regulation semi-automatic service pistol,’ the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said.
The 15-year-old girl was unharmed during the shootout.
Just hours before law enforcement officials in Southern California confirmed the man had taken his own life, a video reviewed by the LA Times reportedly showed coworkers taking items from his home in Virginia.
The Times reported that at least two deputies from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, the agency where Edwards worked, had pulled items from the house.
Deputies were spotted at the home Edwards purchased in Saltville, Virginia, less than two weeks before he drove to California to murder three members of a single family and torch their home.
Southern California agencies investigating the situation claim they had no knowledge about the action’s taken by the Washington County deputies.
‘We are not aware of any action taken at his house prior to the November 26 search warrant,’ a spokesperson from the Smyth County Sheriff’s Department said.
‘We are not aware of any additional searches,’ the person said.
Records show that Austin Lee Edwards purchased his home in Saltville, Virginia, 11 days before he murdered three people in southern California. Deputies from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office were seen removing a sheriff’s truck and a black trash bag from his home before an official search was conducted.
The early search has been described the situation as ‘strange’ that deputies who worked for Washington County, where Edwards worked, would travel into a different county for a search.
‘This is strange right off the bat because Washington County doesn’t have jurisdiction to do anything in Smyth County,’ one criminal defense attorney in Virginia said.
It’s unclear whether the deputies who went to the man’s home had a search warrant.
‘If you want to do something in another county you should go to local law enforcement,’ Yellis told the LA Times.
Two other law enforcement officials in Virginia told the outlet they recognized the two men in the video and confirmed they work for the agency where Edwards was employed previous to his death.
‘This smells pretty bad,’ said one criminal lawyer based in Washington, DC. ‘There are only a few reasons why that may happen, and none of them are good or legal.’
Although he was in law enforcement, the man accused of triple homicide-suicide had struggled with mental health issues. Austin Edwards was detained in 2016 for psychiatric evaluation after threatening to kill his father and himself.
Edwards had gotten into a violent altercation while apparently suffering a breakdown over troubles he was having with his then-girlfriend.
A police report described how cops were called to the family’s home by Edwards’ father. Responding officers met Christopher Edwards struggling to restrain his son on the kitchen floor.
Edwards was detained, and told officers he intended to harm himself and his father the moment his handcuffs were removed, leading authorities to commit him to a mental hospital.
The hospital’s report states that doctors found a ‘substantial likelihood that, as a result of mental illness, [Edwards] will, in the near future’ harm himself or others because of a ‘lack of capacity to protect himself from harm,’ according to the hospital’s report.
Despite the incident, Edwards was still accepted into the Virginia State Police earlier this year and also served in the sheriff’s office in Washington County, Virginia, this fall.
According to Virginia State Police, Edwards did not disclose the incident when he joined the force. The department stated that they are now reviewing the process that led to Edwards’ hiring.
Police in Riverside were first called to the 11200 block of Price Court just before 11am on November 25 to check on the welfare of a young girl who appeared distressed while getting into a red Kia Soul with an unknown man, later identified as Edwards.
While officers were responding to the scene, police began to receive calls about a fire just a few houses away.
The Riverside Fire Department discovered three adults lying in the front entryway and took them outside, where rescue personnel ‘determined they were victims of an apparent homicide,’ police said.
The cause of the fire was under investigation, but appeared to have been ‘intentionally ignited,’ police said, and authorities soon discovered that the girl described in the initial welfare check had lived in the house with her mother and grandparents.
At that point, law enforcement officials in the town, about 50 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles, distributed a description of Edwards’ vehicle to other agencies nearby.
Within a few hours, police were able to track down Edwards’ Kia as he drove the teenager in Kelso, an unincorporated area of San Bernardino County.
When police finally caught up with him, they say, Edwards fired shots at them.
An ensuing investigation found that Edwards had driven from his home in North Chesterfield, Virginia to Riverside, where he parked his vehicle in a neighbor’s driveway and walked to the girl’s home.
While there, authorities say, he murdered the girl’s mother, grandmother and grandfather and set their home on fire before walking back to his vehicle with the girl and leaving the scene.
The Winek’s exact cause of death is unknown, as is the cause of the fire – The incident remains under investigation by Riverside Police officials.
Last week, however, sheriff’s officials said Edwards’ cause of death had been determined to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound: “Detectives determined the gun used was Edwards’ department issued semi-automatic service pistol,” the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said on Friday.
At the time of the incident, Edwards had been employed with the Washington County Sheriff’s Department for less than 2 weeks. He had previously had a short stint with Virginia state police before resigning Oct. 28.
Family and friends continue to mourn the members of the Winek family who were killed by Edwards on November 25 in Riverside. A GoFundMe post for the family, dedicated to supporting the two surviving teenage girls, has raised over $88,000 of the $100,000 as of December 11.