Monday, June 24, 2024

What we know about the Virginia cop accused of killing the family of a girl he catfished

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Riverside police allege that Austin Lee Edwards, 28 — a law enforcement officer from North Chesterfield, Va. — catfished a teenage girl online, came to her suburban Riverside neighborhood and killed three of her family members Friday before leaving with her in his vehicle.

Hours later, Edwards was killed by police. The girl was unharmed.

Here is what we know about Edwards and the allegations against him.

What is his background?

He had been newly hired as a deputy for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Virginia, officials said. Before that, he was an officer with the Virginia State Police.

Edwards resigned from the Virginia State Police on Oct. 28 and started with the sheriff’s office about three weeks later.

He completed training with the Virginia State Police Academy in January, officials said, and was hired as a patrol deputy with the sheriff’s office in rural, southwest Virginia on Nov. 16. Edwards had started orientation at his agency and had been assigned to the patrol division.

How do police say he met the teen?

Detectives with the Riverside Police Department said Edwards met the teenage girl through a method of online deception known as “catfishing,” in which a fake profile is used to lure someone.

It is unclear what social media platform he had been using.

What happened at the house?

Authorities are investigating. But they said he came into the house Friday morning before leaving with the girl. The house was set on fire, and when firefighters arrived, they found three people dead inside. The victims were identified as Mark Winek, 69; his wife, Sharie Winek, 65; and their daughter Brooke Winek, 38 — the grandfather, grandmother and mother of the teen.

What do police say about how Edwards died?

Hours after he allegedly left the house, a SWAT team attempted to intercept Edwards’ car in San Bernardino County, according to the sheriff’s office there. He led deputies on a chase, during which Edwards shot at the SWAT vehicle multiple times, officials said. He eventually exited his vehicle and pointed a gun at a Sheriff’s Department helicopter, and deputies fired at Edwards, killing him, officials said.

What are officials in Virginia saying?

“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,” Washington County Sheriff Blake Andis said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the Winek family, their friends, officers and all of those affected by this heinous crime.”

Andis and a spokesperson for the Virginia State Police said none of Edwards’ prior employers had disclosed issues with him. Corinne Geller, the state police spokesperson, said that during Edwards’ 15-month tenure at the agency, he “never exhibited any behaviors to trigger any internal administrative or criminal investigations.” During his background and psychological tests, there weren’t “any indicators of concern,” she said.

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