RIVERSIDE, Calif. - More information is being released about the Virginia law enforcement officer accused of "catfishing" a Riverside teen, then traveling to California to meet her before allegedly murdering her family.
Austin Lee Edwards was killed on Nov. 25 during a shootout with San Bernardino County Deputies, outside of Needles near the California-Arizona border. Edwards was killed after leading deputies on a short chase. Along with him in the car was a teen girl from Riverside. According to the coroner's report, Edwards died by suicide from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Edwards was accused of "catfishing" the teen, pretending to be someone else while he established a relationship with her. After he got her personal info, Riverside Police said, Edwards traveled from Virginia to Riverside to meet her, but not before he killed her mother, 38-year-old Brooke Winek, and her grandparents, 69-year-old Mark Winek and 65-year-old Sharie Winek.
On Sunday, authorities announced that Edwards was also a law enforcement official, formerly with the Virginia State Police, and most recently as a county sheriff in Washington County, Virginia. Edwards had a short law enforcement career. According to the Virginia State Police, Edwards entered the academy in July 2021, and graduated in January 2022, assigned to Henrico County, which surrounds Richmond. He was with the department until last month.
According to Virginia State Police, because Edwards was a probationary employee he was subjected to regular performance reviews, and "never exhibited any behaviors to trigger any internal administrative or criminal investigations." In addition, the department said he passed his pre-employment background check, polygraph test, and psychological evaluations.
Edwards joined the Washington County, Virginia, Sheriff's Office just one week before he's accused of killing the Winek family. According to the department, none of Edwards' former employers disclosed anything to cause them any concern.
"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 Washington County Sheriff Blake Andis said in a press release. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the Winek family, their friends, officers, and all of those affected by this heinous crime."
Dozens of people came to a vigil Saturday to show support for the family. Neighbors described the Wineks as "loving."
A GoFundMe campaign has been established to help the family with funeral expenses.