ABINGDON, Va. (WRIC) — Newly obtained messages between accused cross-country killer Austin Edwards and a young girl have revealed disturbing details about the Virginia law enforcement officer’s past.
The 28-year-old was named as the lone suspect in a triple homicide investigation in Riverside, Calif. Authorities said that he engaged in a deceptive, online relationship with a 15-year-old girl, known as “catfishing,” ultimately traveling to her home on the West Coast and allegedly killing her mother and grandparents before driving off with the teen in his vehicle the day after Thanksgiving.
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According to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office, Edwards shot and killed himself during a shootout with sheriff’s deputies later that day as authorities attempted to locate the teen.
Prior to these accusations, Edwards was an Abingdon, Va. resident. He briefly served as a Virginia State Police (VSP) trooper in the Richmond Division, and, just nine days before he allegedly committed the murders of the Winek family in Riverside, Calif., he started working for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.
Police note there may be ‘other victims out there’
The Riverside Police Department has since been leading the investigation.
“We would like anybody to come forward, and this is one of those things that we had someone, this predator from the state of Virginia, coming all the way to California,” the department’s public information officer, Ryan Railsback, said early on. “It is possible that there are other victims out there, anywhere in our country.”
One young woman has since come forward.
She originally commented on a video posted to social media by podcasters Josh Farrell and Justin Smith. The two men had been discussing Edwards’ case on their “It’s Cryptic Out There” podcast.
“We get a comment from her, saying that he groomed and stalked her when she was 12 years old,” Smith said.
The woman, now 21, provided Smith and Farrell with online messages between her and Edwards, which she said began when he was 19. Nexstar’s WRIC reviewed the exchanges, which were also provided to the Los Angeles Times.
“You’re literally sitting there reading some of the most disturbing and just disgusting stuff a human being can say — a cop,” Farrell said. “But also, this is a grown man, talking to a child.”
A previous exchange
The full scope of the messages is highly inappropriate, including discussions of fecal matter in a sexual nature, self-harm and derogatory language.
In October 2014, for example, Edwards reportedly wrote that he was “going to kill myself out of anger” because the girl did not send him nude photos.
“In the times that he wasn’t being, I don’t know, sexually aggressive, he was very depressed,” Farrell said. “But that led into a lot of his disturbing conversations.”
Smith and Farrell said that the then-12-year-old — who became a teenager over the years of conversations with Edwards — first met the young man on Omegle, a website that randomly pairs users in one-on-one chat sessions where they can speak anonymously. The conversation later moved to Skype.
“Just because the popularity of the app dies does not mean that the app dies,” Farrell said. “She had the opportunity to go and find all of those.”
In another exchange from October of 2014, Edwards reportedly wrote, “im your mommy,” and, “show mommy where the bad man touched you.” In April 2015, the messages showed the girl telling Edwards that she could not Skype because her mother was present, to which Edwards appeared to respond, “kill her.” In May of that year, he allegedly wrote, “im a pedo.”
By February 2016, their exchanges continued.
“i cut myself a little bit dont b mad,” a message timestamped Feb. 7, 2016, at 10:28 p.m. read. He continued, “i might have done it out of sadness but i dont want you to do it so ill say it was an accident.”
Hours later, as WRIC previously reported, EMTs were called.
Early the next morning, police arrived at Edwards’ father’s home in Abingdon, Va., after the then-21-year-old harmed himself, leaving a “large presence of blood” in the residence, according to a police report. Authorities said that they struggled to get control of the young man, eventually handcuffing him. The report noted that Edwards threatened to kill himself and his father, in the presence of Abingdon Police, once freed from handcuffs. The violent incident would lead to Edwards’ admission to a mental facility in Bristol, Va.
“I actually knew a bit about how those places work so I just told them everything they wanted to hear,” Edwards wrote to the girl, “so they threw me out in 2 days.”
The messages also reveal discussions about the state of Edwards’ mental health.
“I think I have anxiety,” he appeared to write. “it would explain why I get stomach aches so often […] and why i always feel nervous […] but I am crazy.”
By March 2016, the messages showed that the girl stopped responding to Edwards, though she told Smith and Farrell that he reached out to her more recently on Facebook Messenger.
“Read the way he speaks to her. It’s almost like he’s so confident that you could tell that he has spoke like this to other girls,” Smith said.
Farrell and Smith told WRIC that they hope the release of these exchanges will encourage other potential victims to come forward, particularly after the murders of three members of the Winek family in Riverside.
“Her family that was killed in California, that girl will never, ever be the same, ever again,” Farrell said. “They always say, well, ‘One bad apple doesn’t spoil the bunch.’ I think, right now, it’s that it might be the bunch that spoiled, and you’re ruining your good apples.”
The investigation into the homicides is ongoing, as is a separate investigation, being conducted by the Virginia Office of the State Inspector General (OSIG) into VSP’s hiring of Edwards in 2021.
“This guy wasn’t your average pedophile,” Farrell and Smith said. “That man was a predator.”
If you are in crisis, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline anytime at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK.