ABINGDON, Va. (WJHL) — Washington County, Virginia Sheriff Blake Andis confirmed that a man accused of traveling cross country and killing a teenager’s family was working to be a patrol deputy at the sheriff’s office.
Austin Lee Edwards, 28, of Chesterfield County, previously worked as a Virginia State Police (VSP) trooper before resigning on Oct. 28, officials say. The sheriff said Edwards was employed with VSP when he submitted an application to work for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO).
The WCSO hired Edwards to work in the patrol division on Nov. 16, and he was undergoing orientation. He never worked in the field as a WCSO employee.
“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,” said Andis in a news release. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the Winek family, their friends and all of those affected by this heinous crime.”
The sheriff’s office reported that they contacted Edwards’ past employers and VSP during the hiring process, but no employers communicated any troubles, reprimands or internal investigations pertaining to Edwards.
Edwards is accused of forming an online relationship with a teen in Riverside, California, by pretending to be someone else — a type of virtual deception known as catfishing. Police allege that Edwards drove from Virginia to California and on Nov. 25 killed three of the teen’s family members: her mother, grandmother and grandfather.
Riverside police identified the victims as 38-year-old Brooke Winek, 65-year-old Sharie Winek and 69-year-old Mark Winek. A fire crew found their bodies in the entryway of a home when responding to a structure fire shortly after 11 a.m. last Friday.
Meanwhile, police received calls from a few blocks away where witnesses claim they saw a distressed girl get into a red Kia Soul with a man. The incident soon turned into a homicide investigation, and authorities believe the structure fire had been “intentionally ignited,” a release from Riverside police states.
Several hours later at 1:15 p.m., San Bernardino deputies noticed a Kia Soul that fit the original report’s description traveling on Highway 247. The driver of the vehicle, identified as Edwards, was believed to be armed and dangerous, so officers followed from a distance until SWAT caught up.
A pursuit ensued, and police reported that Edwards fired multiple shots at a SWAT vehicle as he continued to flee. A release from area police states that he lost control of the vehicle and drove off the road. The girl exited the vehicle and made it safely to deputies.
Edwards reportedly pointed a gun at the sheriff’s helicopter. He was shot and killed. Later reports specified that his death was due to a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Autopsies are underway for Edwards and the three homicide victims. The WCSO continues to assist the Riverside Police Department in California with the investigation.