Co-workers of Va. cop who killed 3 removed items from his home before official search

Erin B. Logan and Summer Lin
Los Angeles Times (TNS)

ABINGDON, Va. — Co-workers of Austin Lee Edwards, the Virginia cop who killed the grandparents and mother of a 15-year-old Riverside, California, girl he “catfished” online, removed a sheriff’s truck and a black trash bag from Edwards’ property the night before it was officially searched, according to an eyewitness and a video reviewed by the Los Angeles Times.

Two deputies from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, the law enforcement agency that employed Edwards immediately before his death, arrived at the white Cape Cod-style home with blacked-out windows late on Nov. 25, the day of the killings.

Riverside Police, who are leading the homicide investigation, did not know about the Washington County Sheriff’s Office’s actions. “We are not aware of any action taken at his house prior to the Nov. 26 search warrant,” said Riverside Police spokesperson Ryan Railsback. “We are not aware of any additional searches.”

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Austin Lee Edwards made violent threats in 2016 after experiencing relationship troubles with his then-girlfriend, according to a police report. (Riverside Police Department/TNS)

The eyewitness said the officers arrived at the home in the evening hours of Nov. 25 — the same day the murders in Riverside took place — and that they didn’t see the officers go inside but witnessed the deputies come from the back of the home with a trash bag before leaving with a vehicle from the property.

The 42-second video shows two people next to the house, one of them holding what appears to be a flashlight in one hand and the black trash bag in another. Both of them then walk away from the house. The eyewitness said the two deputies drove off separately, one in a patrol car and the other in a Washington County Sheriff’s Office truck that had been parked in Edwards’ driveway for days.

Two former law enforcement officers in Virginia, who are familiar with the matter and have reviewed the video, confirmed that they recognized both of the officers in the video as deputies with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.

The Times has granted the eyewitness and the former officers anonymity because they fear retaliation for speaking to the media.

Edwards, 28, started as a patrol deputy with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office on Nov. 16.

Riverside police have said that Edwards portrayed himself as a 17-year-old while communicating with the 15-year-old online. In November, he drove across the country to her Riverside home and killed three of her family members before setting fire to the home and leaving with the girl.

San Bernardino County officials initially said Edwards was killed in a shootout with police after officers stopped his car. But the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said last week that Edwards died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The teenage girl was physically uninjured.

Edwards’ tenure as a police officer was brief. He entered the Virginia State Police Academy on July 6, 2021, and after he graduated on Jan. 21 of this year, he was assigned to Henrico County, within the Richmond Division. He resigned from the Virginia State Police on Oct. 28. A Virginia State Police spokesperson told The Times on Wednesday that “human error” in the agency’s background check process led to Edwards’ hiring.

Neither the Washington County Sheriff’s Office nor the Smyth County Commonwealth’s Attorney immediately responded to a request for comment.