THE THIN BLUE LINE
A Virginia law enforcement employee was killed in a shootout with deputies in California after he killed the mother and grandparents of a teenage girl he had catfished online, police said Sunday.
Officers were initially called to the La Sierra South neighborhood in Riverside, California, on Friday just after 11 a.m. to check on the welfare of a girl who appeared distressed while getting into a red Kia Soul with a man, the Riverside Police Department said in a news release. While officers were responding, police began to receive calls about a structural fire just a few houses away from where the welfare call was reported, they said.
The Riverside Fire Department arrived at the residence to find a fire on the first floor. When they entered, they discovered three adults lying on the floor, police said. “Their bodies were pulled outside where it was determined they were victims of an apparent homicide,” the Riverside Police Department said, adding that firefighters were able to put the fire out.
According to authorities, on Friday, Nov. 25, deputies spotted 28-year-old Austin Lee Edwards driving a red Kia Soul south on Highway 247. Aircraft tracked Edwards until SWAT units could get in place. The planes followed Edwards onto Highway 62 and ultimately Kelso Cima Road before the deputies could get in position.
When the team intercepted the vehicle, Edwards continued to drive away, shooting at deputies as he tried to flee.
He lost control of the car when he drove off the road. Shortly after the crash, Edwards exited the car and pointed his gun toward a sheriff’s helicopter. Deputies shot Edwards. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Edwards was hired by the Virginia State Police and entered the police academy on July 6, 2021, Virginia State Police Public Relations Manager Corinne Geller told The Associated Press in an email. He graduated as a trooper on Jan. 21, 2022, and was assigned to Henrico County within the agency’s Richmond Division until his resignation on Oct. 28.
Corinne Geller, a state police spokesperson, said that during Edwards’ 15-month tenure there, he “never exhibited any behaviors to trigger any internal administrative or criminal investigations.” During his background and psychological tests, there weren’t “any indicators of concern,” she told the Los Angeles Times.
Edwards was hired as a deputy in Washington County, Virginia, on Nov. 16 and had begun orientation to be assigned to the patrol division, the sheriff’s office said in a statement. During the hiring process, “no employers disclosed any troubles, reprimands, or internal investigations pertaining to Edwards,” the statement said.
“As a probationary employee, Justin L. Edwards was also given monthly performance evaluations, in accordance with department policy. During Edwards’ short tenure with the department, he never exhibited any behaviors to trigger any internal administrative or criminal investigations,” said VSP spokesperson Corinne Geller. “The Virginia State Police also conducts a thorough background check as part of its mandatory hiring process for entry into the academy. That background check requires passage of written, psychological, and physical testing, as well as a pre-employment polygraph. At no time during that extensive process were there any indicators of concern.”
After resigning from VSP, Edwards was hired by the Washington Count Sheriff’s Office in Southwest Virginia and began orientation on Nov. 16. VSP said they would not release the reasons for resigning because it was a part of his personnel file, but were cooperating with the investigation.
“Past employers and the Virginia State Police were contacted during the hiring processing; however, no employers disclosed any troubles, reprimands, or internal investigations pertaining to Edwards,” the department said in a statement.