A Virginia police officer who catfished a 15-year-old California girl online and killed her mother and grandparents.
Edwards, 28, a former Virginia state cop who in November joined the sheriff’s office in Washington County, Va., as a deputy, portrayed himself as a 17-year-old while communicating with the girl online, according to Riverside police. Last month, he drove across the country to her home in Riverside, where he killed her mother and grandparents before setting fire to the house and driving away with the girl.
The bodies of Mark Winek, 69, his wife, Sharie Winek, 65, and their daughter Brooke Winek, 38, were found Friday inside a burning Riverside home. The causes of their deaths continue to be investigated, but police said they were not killed in the fire.
Authorities believe the suspect, Austin Lee Edwards, 28, parked his vehicle in a neighbor’s driveway, walked to the home and killed the family members before setting the fire. He then left with the girl. Police said they are not investigating this as a kidnapping.
Police later stopped Edwards’ car in San Bernardino County; authorities initially said he was killed there in a shootout with police. But the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department announced last week that Edwards actually died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The girl was uninjured.
Edwards had troubles years before the November incident.
The Washington County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment.
Officials from the two agencies said none of Edwards’ prior employers had disclosed issues with him. Geller said the agency conducted a “thorough background check” as part of its hiring process, which would have included a fingerprint-based criminal history examination and psychological testing, though it’s not clear if that effort would have uncovered the emergency custody order or temporary detention order. Geller said the agency conducted a preemployment polygraph, though it’s not known what that might have found.
Geller said there weren’t “any indicators of concern” during Edward’s tenure, and no internal or criminal investigations were opened against him.
Edwards’ law enforcement career was brief. He entered the Virginia State Police Academy on July 6, 2021. After he graduated on Jan. 21 of this year, he was assigned to Henrico County, within the Richmond Division. He resigned from the Virginia State Police on Oct. 28 and started as a patrol deputy with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office on Nov. 16. He began orientation and was assigned to the patrol division.
Less than two weeks later, he and three others were dead.