‘Catfish’ cop Austin Lee Edwards groomed one other teen too

The girl was mindlessly scrolling by Instagram when she noticed a face that made her freeze.

Staring up from her telephone display was Austin Lee Edwards, the now-deceased Virginia cop who drove throughout the nation to Riverside and killed three kinfolk of a 15-year-old lady he “catfished” on-line. The information of the slayings was horrific sufficient to rattle anybody. But it surely was not simply the crime that made the lady cease scrolling — it was the reminiscence of Edwards’ face.

His was a face she might always remember. She noticed it dozens of occasions on video chats practically a decade in the past, when Edwards was 20 and he or she was 13. She started to cry and nearly threw up.

“I felt so sick seeing his face because I hadn’t seen it in years,” the lady, now 21, informed The Instances. “I read the whole story and it made me feel disgusting.”

“This guy stalked me and groomed me when I was a child,” she stated.

The Instances reviewed practically 4,000 messages supplied by the lady that supply deeper perception into Edwards’ psyche. The messages present that Edwards repeatedly pressured her to share nude images of herself — even after she disclosed that she was barely a youngster.

The girl informed The Instances that she shared with Edwards nude images of herself whereas she was a baby.

The Instances doesn’t usually establish victims of kid sexual abuse.

The messages, parts of which have been initially shared with The Instances by Justin Smith, co-host of “It’s Cryptic Out There,” a criminal offense and paranormal podcast, present larger element of a 2016 incident wherein Edwards was detained for psychiatric analysis after slicing his hand and threatening to kill himself and his father.

They present that the lady, then 14, had tried to chop off contact with Edwards lower than two weeks earlier than he harmed himself.

The girl informed The Instances that she needed to share her story to let the general public know that Edwards had a historical past of grooming and soliciting sexual photos from minors, even earlier than he was employed as a legislation enforcement officer. She spoke with Edwards on and off for about two years, she stated, however after they first related, they talked a number of occasions every week.

The 13-year-old and the 20-year-old first met in October 2014 on Omegle, a web-based platform that randomly pairs customers to speak. In the future later, on Oct. 25, 2014, they started speaking on Skype. The pair initially bonded over memes, the lady stated. However the conversations in a short time turned sexual.

“YO WHAT THE F— I SAID I WANTED TITS WAITING ON ME WHEN I GOT BACK,” Edwards wrote on Oct. 26, 2014.

“iM SORRY,” she replied.

In messages, Edwards would additionally repeatedly drop homophobic and racist slurs, together with the N-word. However he additionally appeared to be underneath the misunderstanding that the lady he was chatting with was Black. “ur black rite,” he wrote on Oct. 29, 2014. “i have jungle fever. lets do this.”

Edwards was conscious that the lady, who’s white, was a minor after they first started chatting. He would typically watch for her to complete college with a view to video chat or to reply, messages present.

“did i tell you i went trick or treating? :^ )” Edwards wrote on Nov. 6, 2014. After she responded, “nupe,” Edwards wrote: “i totally did. am 20.”

“Me too,” she wrote again. “Am 13.”

The messages point out that she and Edwards spoke for no less than two years, and that his conduct modified dramatically from daily and second to second. Edwards would typically make jokes and use humor however later would categorical disappointment and despair.

Edwards would sometimes talk about disliking his father and desirous to eat, the lady stated. She stated he would complain of his starvation due to a scarcity of cash and that he would deliberately starve himself when he was depressed.

An undated photograph of noodles taken by Austin Lee Edwards. Edwards repeatedly tried to solicit nude images from a teen lady within the mid-2010s.

(Austin Lee Edwards)

Their conversations typically delved into suicide and self-harm. Edwards would say she was the one individual he had and would threaten to kill himself if she ever stopped speaking to him, the lady recalled. He would typically showcase his handgun and knife assortment over video, she stated.

Edwards would additionally convey his violent ideas. On April 10, 2015, he requested her to Skype.

“i cant yet,” she informed him.

“why’s that,” he replied.

“bc my mom,” she stated.

“kill her,” he wrote. He added: “imma give myself a black eye okay.”

Messages present that Edwards would typically check with her as his “girlfriend” and informed her how vital she was to him. He would additionally masturbate on digicam and strain her to undress on digicam, which she by no means did, she stated.

“My first thought in the morning is you and I go to sleep at night thinking about you,” he wrote on Jan. 13, 2016. “It’s so nice havng someone that I can love knowing you love me back. You’re the best thing in my life and I wouldn’t trade you for anyone.”

The subsequent day, Edwards expressed a need to see her in individual, saying he discovered an inexpensive round-trip ticket for $263 to her state.

“Thats cheap af i might try to come there sooner idk,” he wrote. “you can leave house whenever you want right. cus if I came there it’d be dumb if we couldnt hang out.”

On Jan. 27, 2016, the 14-year-old informed Edwards that she needed to “break up” with him.

“What the f—,” he replied. “I thought you loved me?!” Messages present that Edwards pressured her to stick with him.

“Don’t do that again please,” he stated. “like ever again. that really hurt.”

4 days later, Edwards talked about visiting once more.

“Listen there’s not obstacle that’s gonna stop us from being together if that’s what we both want,” he wrote. “It doesn’t even matter if you’re 14 and not technically allowed to do sh— yet.”

On Feb. 7, 2016, Edwards informed the lady over chat that he needed to kill himself, however wouldn’t as a result of he “loved” her. He requested to video chat over Skype. On video chat, he was crying and had been consuming alcohol, she stated. He informed her about how terrible his life was and expressed concern that she would go away him.

Over chat, he wrote that he had minimize himself. When she requested why, he stated it was an accident. “Are you sure,” she wrote. “no,” he wrote again. “i might have done it out of sadness.” However he stated he’d declare it was an accident.

On a second video name the identical day, Edwards sat in a toilet along with his again pressed to a closed door and confirmed her a minimize he had made on his hand, she stated. He confirmed her the silver hatchet he used. The decision ended when Edwards’ father tried to return into the lavatory, she stated.

The girl’s account aligns with official accounts of the identical incident. As The Instances beforehand reported, EMTs have been summoned to the house the place Edwards lived along with his father within the early hours of Feb. 8, 2016, as a result of Edwards had locked himself in a toilet and minimize himself.

Edwards’ father held him down as emergency medical technicians tried to manage assist. Edwards resisted, nonetheless, and EMTs known as for police help.

A police officer and a member of the EMT crew have been finally capable of handcuff Edwards and strap him to a stretcher after getting him to the bottom, in line with a police report. The police report from the 2016 incident comprises a photograph of a hatchet. It seems to be the identical hatchet Edwards displayed on Skype, the lady informed The Instances.

Edwards’ father informed authorities on scene that his son had been consuming and had been coping with “girlfriend” issues. The girl informed The Instances that she believes she was the “girlfriend” to whom Edwards’ father referred.

After being faraway from his residence, Edwards was evaluated at a psychiatric facility in Bristol, Va., underneath a brief detention order.

Three days after the incident, Edwards messaged the lady on Skype and informed a special story about how he acquired his harm.

“I was walking around outside the other night and slipped and cut my hand pretty bad,” he wrote. “And they thought it was a suicide attempt but it’s on my hand not my wrist??” Edwards informed her that he was in a psychiatric facility and that “the therapists tried to figure me out” however they “didn’t find anything wrong.”

“Yeah I actually knew a bit about how those places work so I just told them everything they wanted to hear,” he wrote. “so they threw me out in 2 days.”

Throughout Edwards’ time within the psychiatric facility, an area choose barred him from buying, possessing or transporting firearms after he voluntarily sought therapy, new information reviewed by The Instances present. Officers for courts within the jurisdictions of two recognized addresses for Edwards informed The Instances that they don’t have information that point out that he ever petitioned the courtroom for restoration of his gun rights.

After the February incident, {the teenager} slowed her communication with Edwards. By September, she had blocked him, she stated. He informed her he had a brand new girlfriend, she recalled.

After she blocked Edwards on Skype in 2016, the yr she turned 15, he continued to ship her messages from totally different Fb accounts for years.

She felt scared: She had by no means informed him her actual title.

In April 2020, after she’d turned 18, Edwards tried to name her on Fb, in line with a screenshot she shared with The Instances. She didn’t decide up.

Then, in December 2020, he messaged her from a Fb account. “He wrote, ‘Hey,’ with a sad face,” she stated. She messaged again, informed him by no means to contact her once more and blocked him.

A couple of months after that interplay, Edwards utilized to affix the Virginia State Police. Through the hiring course of, he disclosed that he had voluntarily checked himself into the psychological well being facility in 2016. That disclosure ought to have prompted additional investigation, however didn’t. “Human error” and an incomplete question of databases led to Edwards’ utility being permitted, a Virginia State Police spokeswoman later acknowledged.

In July 2021, round 5 years after he was institutionalized and had his gun rights taken from him, Edwards entered the Virginia State Police Academy.

On Jan. 21, 2022, Edwards graduated from the academy. He resigned after lower than a yr, and utilized for a job as a deputy with the Washington County Sheriff’s Workplace, itemizing his personal father as a reference. He began that job on Nov. 16, 2022.

On Nov. 25, Edwards drove to Riverside to fulfill a 15-year-old lady whom police say he had “catfished” on-line by telling her he was 17. He entered her residence and killed her grandparents and her mom earlier than setting hearth to the home. He left with the lady and drove her in his pink Kia Soul into the desert, the place he engaged in a shootout with San Bernardino County authorities. He used his service weapon to shoot at legislation enforcement earlier than turning it on himself. The teenage lady was discovered bodily unhurt.

The girl who communicated with Edwards years earlier was baffled that two legislation enforcement businesses had employed him, she stated.

“It’s just crazy that he was able to become a cop with me knowing his mental health issues,” the lady stated. “I don’t understand how he got past everything because it was so prominent to me that he had so many issues just from talking to him in that time period.”

However she wasn’t “surprised at all” that it had been Edwards who killed the Riverside household as a result of she “knew how scary he was,” she stated. She recalled that he would threaten violence when she didn’t ship nude footage.

“That’s when I realized he was not mentally stable,” she stated.

The girl stated recalling her communication with him made her understand she most likely suffered from post-traumatic stress dysfunction. “It definitely affected me more than I realized,” she stated. “He did a lot of damage to me.”

The girl stated she hid her communication with Edwards from her mother and her family members and solely lately started talking about it after listening to of the killings.

“Austin was really good at manipulating people,” the lady stated. “I’m sure that the people who knew him in person had no idea how old [the Riverside teenager] actually was.”

She added: “I’m just glad that I don’t have to keep it a secret anymore.”

When you or somebody wants assist, contact the Rape, Abuse & Incest Nationwide Community’s sexual assault hotline at (800) 656-4673 or go to the Nationwide Sexual Violence Useful resource Heart.

Dialing 988 will route callers to the 988 Suicide & Disaster Lifeline, accessible throughout the U.S. The Lifeline at present serves TTY customers both by their most well-liked relay service or by dialing 711, then (800) 273-8255.

Logan reported from Washington, D.C., and Lin from Los Angeles.