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'I Felt So Sick Seeing His Face': Catfishing Virginia Cop Groomed Other Teen Before California Murders
A now 21-year-old woman says she was groomed as a 13-year-old by Austin Lee Edwards, the man accused of killing the mom and grandparents of a teen he catfished online before fleeing with the girl and ultimately taking his own life.
A woman says the same Virginia law enforcement officer who allegedly killed the family of a teen girl he'd catfished online had groomed her when she was 13.
"I felt so sick seeing his face because I hadn’t seen it in years,” the woman, who's now 21, told the Los Angeles Times. “This guy stalked me and groomed me when I was a child."
The woman, whose identify was withheld because she is a victim of child sexual abuse, saw the face of her abuser, Austin Lee Edwards, 28, after he made news in November for allegedly killing the mom and grandparents of another teenage girl in a home in Riverside, California.
Edwards allegedly killed Brooke Winek, 38 — the mother of the girl he catfished — as well as her parents, Mark Winek, 69, and Sharie Winek, 65, on Nov. 25. Police were called to the home in Riverside late that morning after getting reports of a young female in distress seen being forced into a Red Kia Soul with a man.
Emergency dispatchers also received reports of a fire in the area while police were on their way. When firefighters arrived at the home, they found three bodies in the front entryway.
Later that day, deputies spotted a red Kia Soul matching the description of the one tied to the triple homicide. Law enforcement followed the vehicle, and Edwards, 28, began firing at deputies. He eventually lost control of the car and the teen was able to escape. Edwards then pointed a gun at a sheriff's helicopter, and deputies fired at him. He was found dead at the scene; an autopsy from the San Bernardino County Coroner later found he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
The teen in that case was not injured and put into the protective custody of the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services, according to The Riverside Police Department.
But the horror of what happened to the Riverside teen and her family deeply disturbed the woman who shared her story with the Times.
She told the paper that she cried and almost threw up when she saw Edwards' face again, after having video-chatted with him dozens of times when she was a teen and the two lived in different states. They'd met on the platform Omegle — a video chatting platform that randomly pairs users one-on-one — in October 2014, when she was 13 and he was 20. They then exchanged Skype handles, and began communicating off the app the following day.
The conversations almost immediately turned sexual, with Edwards demanding in a Skype message to see photos of her breasts, using graphic terms.
The woman provided the Times with almost 4,000 messages that show that Edwards pressured her, over and over, into sharing nude pictures, even after she told him her age, and she said that she ultimately gave into his demands. The woman told the Times that Edwards also masturbated on camera and pushed her to undress, which she says she never did.
Edwards also regularly used homophobic and racist slurs, including dropping the N-word, according to messages viewed by the Times. He also seemed to believe the girl was Black at one point, writing to her, “ur black rite,” on Oct. 29, 2014 — four days after they began to Skype — and adding, “i have jungle fever. lets do this." (The woman is white.)
During a Nov. 6 discussion about trick-or-treating, the teen wrote that she was 13 years old.
The conversations continued for at least two years after that, and the woman told the Times that Edwards sometimes mentioned disliking his father and also told her that he intentionally starved himself when depressed.
Edwards also threatened to kill himself if the girl ever stopped talking to him, she said, and would show her his guns and knives in their video chats. In April 2015, after Edwards asked the teen to Skype and she told him that she couldn't yet because "my mom," he wrote back, “kill her” and “imma give myself a black eye okay.”
Edwards repeatedly referred to the child as his “girlfriend” in messages and, in Jan. 2016, wrote, "You’re the best thing in my life and I wouldn’t trade you for anyone.”
On Jan. 14, 2016, Edwards asked to come see her, saying he'd found affordable round-trip tickets, and asking if she could leave the house whenever she wanted in order to make it worth his time and money. She was 14 at the time.
Less than two weeks later — on Jan. 27 — the girl told Edwards she wanted to break up with him. He pressured her to stay in the relationship and she ultimately relented, at which point he wrote back, "Don’t do that again please ... like ever again. that really hurt.”
Four days later, he tried to again pressure her into letting him visit, writing, "Listen there’s not obstacle that’s gonna stop us from being together if that’s what we both want" and adding “It doesn’t even matter if you’re 14 and not technically allowed to do sh** yet."
On Feb. 7, Edwards told the teen that he wanted to kill himself and that he had cut himself. In a video call after this, he sat in a bathroom and showed her a cut on his hand, and the object he used to cut it with. The woman said that Edwards' father tried to come into the bathroom and the call ended.
Her account appears to be the same Feb 2016 incident during which EMTs were called to the Edwards home in the early morning hours of Feb. 8 after the younger man had cut himself and locked himself in a bathroom. Edwards resisted as EMTs tried to give him medical attention, so the police had to be called, according to a police report obtained by the Times.
Edwards was eventually handcuffed, and his dad told police at the scene that his son had been having "girlfriend" problems, a reference the woman who spoke to the Times believes was about her. Edwards was taken to a psychiatric facility in Bristol, Virginia, to be evaluated.
Three days later, Edwards sent the teen girl a Skype message claiming he'd cut his hand outside and was released from the psychiatric facility after two days because, "I actually knew a bit about how those places work so I just told them everything they wanted to hear."
While Edwards was in the facility, a judge barred him from buying, owning or transporting firearms after he voluntarily sought treatment, according to records reviewed by The Times.
After that incident, the woman said that she stopped frequent communication with Edwards and then blocked him by September of that year, when she was 15. He told her he had a new girlfriend anyway.
She says he started sending her Facebook messages from different accounts after that, which he continued for years, despite the fact that she'd never told him her legal name. He even tried to call her on Facebook in April 2020 — when she was 18 — but she didn't pick up, she says.
When he reached out again via Facebook in December 2020, she told him to never contract her again, she said.
The woman said she had been keeping what transpired with Edwards a secret from her mom and other loved ones for years, but the tragedy in Riverside inspired her to start revealing what happened to her.
“Austin was really good at manipulating people,” the woman told the Times. “I’m sure that the people who knew him in person had no idea how old [the Riverside teen] actually was.”
After the California killings, Edwards' friends said the suspected killer told them he had actually traveled 2,000 miles to the state to visit his longtime girlfriend, who they told NBC News was only a couple of years younger than him. It’s not yet known whether there was any link between Edwards going to see that woman and the murders of family of the latest teen girl he'd catfished.