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Alleged Virginia Catfishing Cop Visited Longtime Girlfriend Days Before Teen’s Family Killed
Austin Edwards, the catfishing cop from Virginia who allegedly killed a teen girl's family, reportedly had a long-distance girlfriend living in California whom he visited before the murders.
Austin Edwards, the former Virginia law enforcement agent who allegedly murdered the mother and grandparents of a teen girl he’d catfished online, reportedly visited his longtime girlfriend in California just days before the triple homicide.
Edwards, 28, is accused of killing Brooke Winek, 38, Mark Winek, 69, and Sharie Winek, 65, last month in their Riverside home, which he then set ablaze. He fled the scene of the murder with Brooke Winek’s teenage daughter — identified as the surviving victim — who he’d catfished online, but was later shot and killed by police near Kelso, California.
Police said Edwards had driven upwards of 2,000 miles to California after meeting the teenage victim online.
Friends of the suspected killer say that Edwards had traveled to the state to visit his longtime girlfriend.
One friend, Tommy Gates, didn’t identify the woman in an interview with NBC News, but revealed she and Edwards also met online and was a couple years younger than him. Gates added that Edwards had recently bought a property for the couple in Saltville, Virginia. Gates added that the woman didn’t live in Riverside where the murders had unfolded.
Another friend of Edwards also confirmed with NBC News that Edwards and his unnamed girlfriend had been dating for approximately five years, after meeting online. She said they often played Minecraft together but his cross-country trip was apparently the first time he’d met the woman in person.
Neither friend was aware of the trip in advance, which had been described by the girlfriend as “spontaneous.”
“[He] decided to up and go see her since he had just enough time to drive there and back before he had to work the following Monday,” a third friend added.
The revelations draw additional attention to the murky timeline involving Edwards’ actions in the days and weeks leading up to the triple murder.
“I’m angry, obviously,” Gates told NBC News. “He’s my buddy, my best friend. Before all this, he was one of the people I would have done almost anything for. How could he ever do something like this?”
Authorities haven’t commented on the revelations involving Edward’s supposed girlfriend.
It’s unknown whether there’s any connection between Edwards’ trip to see that woman and the “catfishing” incident with the 15-year-old victim, which ended with the murder of her family.
The teenager has been placed in protective custody, officials said.
Edwards, who had graduated from the Virginia State Police academy in January 2022, was previously employed by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in rural Virginia.
Authorities have already revealed troubling details of Edwards's past. On Feb. 8, 2016, Edwards’ father found him bleeding profusely with a cut to his arm in his home’s bathroom after the two had watched the Super Bowl over a couple of beers, according to Washington County authorities.
Edwards’ father allegedly had to subdue his son, who tried to flee the apartment after the ambulance was called, per a police report cited by Petersburg, Virginia television station WRIC-TV. Police were dispatched after emergency medical personnel arrived on site to find a “large presence of blood inside.” Edwards was nearly tased by an officer after he “began screaming and threatening everyone,” but was ultimately handcuffed and strapped to a stretcher, per the police report.
While in custody, Edwards allegedly later made suicidal comments and threatened to kill his father. An emergency custody order and temporary detention order was issued following the incident.
“[There is 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 stated, per the Los Angeles Times.
No other information has been released by law enforcement. The Washington County Sheriff’s Office previously declined to comment on the ongoing investigation when contacted by Oxygen.com.