The California Family Allegedly Murdered By A Catfishing Ex-Cop

An ex-cop from Virginia was gunned down in Riverside California this month, after allegedly murdering a family and escaping with a young girl he catfished online. Before attempting to flee the scene, the culprit set the family home on fire. Firefighters called to the house found three bodies inside, the mother, grandmother, and grandfather of the catfishing victim. The young girl, believed to be around 15 years old, survived the ordeal and is now in protective custody. The officer, identified as Austen Lee Edwards, allegedly raised no alarm bells when he was first hired by the Virginia Police department (via The Independent).

Edwards' career in law enforcement began in January 2022, after he graduated from basic training to become a Virginia state trooper — a position he resigned after less than a year. According to the LA Times, at the time of the murders, Edwards had just begun a new role as a deputy in the Washington County Sheriff's Office in Virginia. Speaking to CBS News, the Washington County Sheriff's department released a statement claiming that "no employers disclosed any troubles, reprimands, or internal investigations pertaining to Edwards."

Catfishing and kidnapping

Police were alerted to Edward's activities when an alarmed neighbor saw a man in a black trench coat and mask park his vehicle in their driveway (via CBS Los Angeles). The anonymous witness saw Edwards with a barefoot and crying teenage girl. Before they got into his vehicle she reprimanded him for parking in front of their house. After Edwards apologized and sped away, the witness called the police.

A separate call was made later to the fire department, who were called to a nearby house where the young girl's family was found dead. Responders determined that the deceased inside were victims of homicide, but have not yet released the cause of death.

Following an investigation into Edwards' relationship with the young girl, police discovered that the ex-trooper had created a fake profile online to talk to the teen. Known as catfishing, predators often create fake personas to lure young people into giving away personal information or photos. Through their conversations, Edwards seems to have acquired her address and then driven across the country to find her.

Gunned down

A few hours after the initial call was made to the police, Edwards was spotted driving through San Bernardo County with the abducted girl (via CNN). Police aircraft were sent out to chase the fugitive, who shot at police as he drove (via the LA Times).

Eventually, local police caught up with him, after Edwards crashed his car. Rather than surrendering, Edwards pulled out a gun and fired at the police helicopter, however following a firefight with the SWAT team, Edwards was gunned down.

Speaking to the press after the incident, the Washing Country Sheriff, Blake Andis commented that "It is shocking and sad to the entire law enforcement community that such an evil and wicked person could infiltrate law enforcement while concealing his true identity as a computer predator and murderer."

It is not yet known if Edwards had catfished others, but police are still investigating (via CBS Los Angeles).