Austin Lee Edwards, the Virginia sheriff’s deputy who police say killed three members of a Riverside family on Nov. 25, used his department-issued firearm to take his own life later that day, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said Friday, Dec. 9.
Authorities had not previously said whether he had fired his own weapon or one that belonged to his employer.
Riverside police say Edwards, 28, pretended to be a 17-year-old boy to establish an online, “catfishing” relationship with a 15-year-old girl. He drove across from southern Virginia to meet her at her family’s Price Court home after she rejected his request to send him nude photos of herself.
Police say Edwards killed Mark Winek, 69, Sharie Winek, 65, and daughter Brooke Winek, 38 — the mother of the 15-year-old — before setting the house on fire and driving off with the teen.
Police obtained the license plate number of his car from neighbors’ security camera videos and tracked Edwards by pinging his cell phone. Sheriff’s deputies found him in the town of Kelso in the Mojave Desert. He fired on them during a pursuit, sheriff’s officials said, before he crashed.
Deputies fired on him as the girl escaped safely. It was then that Edwards killed himself.
“Detectives determined the gun used was Edwards’ department-issued semi-automatic service pistol,” sheriff’s spokeswoman Gloria Huerta said Friday.
Edwards had been employed by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office for less than two weeks at the time of the Riverside attacks. He had graduated from the Virginia State Police Academy on Jan. 21, 2022, and resigned from that department on Oct. 28.
Subsequent investigation has revealed flaws in the background check on Edwards before he was admitted to the academy. The Virginia State Police said a review of their background check on Edwards showed that because of an “incomplete database query,” they did not see a report filed by the Abingdon Police Department in 2016 on a mental-health episode during which Edwards cut himself and threatened to kill his father.
That agency also said that when they interviewed Edwards’ family and friends during the background check, investigators did not learn of the incident, which a spokeswoman said would have disqualified Edwards from admission to the academy.
Officer Ryan Railsback, a Riverside Police Department spokesman, said Friday that detectives don’t yet know whether Edwards used that gun to detain the Wineks. Authorities have not yet announced how they were killed as police await confirmation from the Riverside County Coroner’s Office, but Railsback said police do not believe they were shot.