‘Catfishing’ Virginia cop who killed California family was detained in 2016 after violent threats
The Virginia police officer who “catfished” a 15-year-old California girl online and killed her mother and grandparents was detained for psychiatric evaluation in 2016 after threatening to kill himself and his father and experiencing relationship troubles with his girlfriend, according to a police report obtained by the Los Angeles Times.
The 2016 incident, which has not been previously reported, raises new questions about how Austin Lee Edwards became a law enforcement officer and offers details about his life. Authorities in Virginia have said they were shocked by the California rampage and knew of no red flags in Edwards’ background.
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.
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 2016 police report, which The Times obtained through a public records request, details a harrowing night in his household.
On the evening of Feb. 7, 2016, Edwards watched the Super Bowl with his father, Christopher Roy Edwards. They each drank two beers, the father later told police.
Later that night, Christopher Edwards awoke to the sound of his 21-year-old son making noise in the bathroom. He called out to his son, who had locked the door, then used a screwdriver to get the door open and saw his son with a cut on his hand. Christopher Edwards later told police he didn’t know what his son had used to harm himself, but knives and a small hatchet had been nearby.
Christopher Edwards called for an ambulance while his son went to his bedroom and sat on the bed, repeatedly opening and closing a pocket or folding knife, according to the report. Once told that an ambulance was on the way, Edwards tried to leave the apartment, but his father subdued him in the kitchen, the elder Edwards told police.
Christopher Edwards could not be reached for comment.
Emergency medical technicians discovered Edwards being held down by his father, they told police. The EMTs, disturbed by Edwards’ “resistance to medical aid and attempts to escape his father’s control,” requested police assistance, according to the report.
When police arrived around 3:30 a.m. on Feb. 8, 2016, they found that the home had a “large presence of blood inside.” Edwards continued to resist authorities, refusing to let EMTs treat his injury and continuing to try to escape his father, according to the report.
One officer ordered Edwards to show his hands, after which Edwards “began screaming and threatening everyone,” according to the officer’s account in the report. The officer took out his Taser, and Edwards yelled at him to use it. Christopher Edwards pleaded for the officer not to use the Taser on his son and said he could subdue him. After getting Edwards to the ground, the officer and a member of the EMT crew were able to handcuff him and strap him to a stretcher.
Edwards was transported to Johnston Memorial Hospital. He had an “apparent serious cut to his left hand” and said in front of police officers that the moment he was free from handcuffs he would kill his father and try to kill himself.
Police said Christopher Edwards had bite marks on both arms but declined medical treatment. He told authorities he didn’t know why his son had harmed himself but said it could have to do with problems with his girlfriend.
Because of the suicidal and homicidal statements, an emergency custody order was issued, under which Edwards was transported to a local hospital, where medical professionals assessed whether he met the requirements for a temporary detention order, according to the report. A TDO, which allows law enforcement to take someone into custody and transport them for mental health evaluation or care if the person is unwilling to do so, was issued.
A Washington County judge released Edwards’ TDO on Tuesday in response to a motion filed by The Times.
The record indicates that the order was issued around 10 a.m. on Feb. 8, 2016, because there was a “substantial likelihood that, as a result of mental illness, [Edwards] will, in the near future” seriously harm himself or suffer harm because of his “lack of capacity to protect himself from harm” or provide himself with basic needs. The order said Edwards was in need of hospitalization or treatment and was either unwilling or unable to seek it.
That day, Edwards was transported to Ridgeview Pavilion, a psychiatric facility in Bristol, Va., according to the order.
Emergency custody orders are issued for a variety of reasons, including when someone may harm themself or others. The order can be issued voluntarily or involuntarily and can remain in effect until a temporary detention order is issued.
Edwards never disclosed the 2016 incident to the Virginia State Police, a spokesperson for the agency, Corinne Geller, said in a statement. Geller declined to comment on the emergency custody order and temporary detention order, saying the department was barred by law from discussing confidential records. Geller said the agency is conducting a review of Edwards’ hiring process. Geller did not respond to requests for comment after The Times informed her that the orders were no longer confidential.
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.
Times staff writers Erin B. Logan reported from Abingdon, Va., and Summer Lin and Grace Toohey from Los Angeles.
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