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Tipsheet

‘Human Error’ Blamed for Hiring of Virginia Cop Accused of Catfishing Teen, Killing Her Family

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

Authorities in Virginia said that “human error” was to blame for the hiring of a now deceased police officer accused of catfishing a teenage girl in California and killing three members of her family. 

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To recap, Townhall reported late last month that a former police officer in Virginia named Austin Lee Edwards, 28, drove across the country to meet up with a 15-year-old girl in Riverside, California that he reportedly met online. Edwards met the teenager through “catfishing” and presented himself as a 17-year-old boy. 

On Friday, Nov. 25, police in Riverside were called to check on the welfare of a young woman who appeared to be in distress. She was seen entering a car with a grown man. Around the same time, authorities received a report that there was a fire at a nearby residence. Firefighters who arrived on the scene reported a working fire and found three adult victims, Mark Winek, 69, his wife Sharie Winek, 65, and their daughter Brook Winek, 38, lying on the ground inside the home. Firefighters brought their bodies outside and it was determined they were victims of homicide. And, the fire appeared to have been intentionally ignited.

During the preliminary investigation, it was determined that the young woman the officers were dispatched to check on lived at the home where the fire occurred. The man in the vehicle she was with was later identified as Edwards.

Edwards’ vehicle was located by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department that day. As police located Edwards, who was driving around with the teenager, he fired gunshots at law enforcement. Initial reports claimed that Edwards was shot dead by officers returning fire. However, ABC News later reported that Edwards’ cause of death was a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to the San Bernardino County Coroner.

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Now, Virginia State Police said in a published statement this week that a “human error resulted in an incomplete database query” during Edwards’ hiring process. 

“Although we believe this to be an isolated incident, steps are currently underway to ensure the error is not repeated going forward,” the agency added. “The department is also proactively auditing existing personnel records and practices.”

The statement came after the Los Angeles Times reported that Edwards was detained for psychiatric evaluation in 2016 after threatening to kill himself and his father while experiencing troubles with his girlfriend, according to a police report.

“The 2016 incident, which has not been previously reported, raises new questions about how Austin Lee Edwards became a law enforcement officer and offers details about his life. Authorities in Virginia have said they were shocked by the California rampage and knew of no red flags in Edwards’ background,” the Times’ report said.

As Townhall noted, Corinne Geller, a Virginia State Police spokesperson, said that Edwards “never exhibited any behaviors to trigger any internal administrative or criminal investigations.” In a comment to the Los Angeles Times, Geller also said that during his background and psychological tests, there weren’t “any indicators of concern.”

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“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. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Winek family, their friends, officers, and all of those affected by this heinous crime,” Virginia’s Washington County Sheriff Blake Andis said in a statement after the incident occurred. 

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