The Virginia police officer who “catfished” a 15-year-old California girl online and killed three of her family members was detained for psychiatric evaluation in 2016 after threatening to kill himself and his father and experiencing relationship troubles with his then-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 new details about his life. Authorities in Virginia have said they were shocked by the California rampage and that they knew of no red flags in Edwards’ background.
The 28-year-old Edwards, a former Virginia state cop who had just been hired as a deputy for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, 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 on the day after Thanksgiving before setting fire to the house and driving away with the girl.
Police later stopped Edwards’ car in San Bernardino County, where authorities initially said he was killed in a shootout with police. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department announced last week that Edwards actually died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The girl was found alive and uninjured.
The former law enforcement officer had troubles years before the November incident.
When Edwards was 21, police arrived at his home in Abingdon, Va., around 3 a.m., a few hours after the 2016 Super Bowl. When they arrived, they discovered Edwards had injured his left hand, according to the report obtained by The Times through a public records request.
His father, Christopher Roy Edwards, told police he awoke to the sound of Edwards making noise in the bathroom. He said he called out to his son, who had locked himself in the bathroom. Christopher Edwards then used a screwdriver to get the door open and saw Edwards with a cut on his hand. Christopher Edwards told police he didn’t know what his son had used to harm himself but that knives and a small hatchet had been nearby.
When officers arrived, they discovered Edwards was being held down by his father, according to the report. Christopher Edwards could not be reached for comment.
Emergency medical technicians told police that Edwards had been found by his father in the bathroom with a self-inflicted injury to his left hand and that police had been called because of Edwards’ “resistance to medical aid and attempts to escape his father’s control.”
The home had a “large presence of blood inside” and Edwards continued to resist authorities, refusing to let EMTs treat his injury and continuing to try to escape his father, according to the report. Edwards was handcuffed and placed on a stretcher to be transported to Johnston Memorial Hospital. Edwards had an “apparent serious cut to his left hand” and said in front of police officers that he was going to try to kill himself the moment he was free from handcuffs and that he would also kill his father.
Christopher Edwards told authorities that he had been watching the Super Bowl with his son the night before and they had each drank two beers.
Christopher Edwards then alerted authorities for an ambulance while his son went to his bedroom and sat on the bed, holding a pocket or folding knife in his hands and repeatedly opening and closing it, according to the report. Once Christopher Edwards told his son that an ambulance was on the way, Edwards tried to leave the apartment, but was subdued by his father in the kitchen.
Police said that Christopher Edwards had bite marks on both his arms from his son but declined medical treatment. He told authorities that he didn’t know why his son harmed himself but said it could have to do with problems in his relationship with his girlfriend.
Because of the suicidal and homicidal statements that Edwards had expressed to police, an emergency custody order was issued, under which Edwards was taken into custody and transported to a 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 a person into custody and transport them for mental health evaluation or care if the person is unwilling to do so, was then issued.
Emergency custody orders are issued for a variety of reasons, including when a person may harm themself or someone else. The order can be issued voluntarily or involuntarily and can remain in effect until a temporary detention order is issued.
On July 6, 2021, Edwards entered the Virginia State Police Academy. He graduated Jan. 21 and was assigned to Henrico County, which is within the Richmond Division. Edwards 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. Edwards had started orientation at his agency and had been assigned to the patrol division.
Edwards never disclosed the 2016 incident to the Virginia State Police, Corinne Geller, a spokesperson for the agency, said in a statement. Geller declined to comment on the emergency custody order and the 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.
The Washington County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Officials from the two agencies said none of Edwards’ prior employers had disclosed issues about him. Geller, the state police spokesperson, said the agency conducted a “thorough background check” as part of its hiring process, which would have included a fingerprint-based criminal history examination as well as psychological testing, though it’s not immediately clear that effort would have turned up the emergency custody order or the temporary detention order. Geller also said the agency conducted a preemployment polygraph, though it’s unclear what that test 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.
Erin B. Logan reported from Abingdon, Va. Summer Lin and Grace Toohey reported from Los Angeles.