RIVERSIDE, Calif. (WRIC) — Former Virginia State Police (VSP) trooper Austin Lee Edwards, 28 — the suspect in a cross-country investigation after three family members were murdered in Riverside, Calif. — purchased a house in Saltville, Va., just days before authorities said he traveled across the country to commit these crimes.

Smyth County real estate personnel, in the southwest corner of the state, told 8News that Edwards bought a home on Allison Gap Road for $79,900 on Nov. 14. The property was located approximately 26 miles from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office where Edwards had just been hired on Nov. 16. The windows of the home appeared to be blacked out.

“At the time of his application for employment with the Washington County Virginia Sheriff’s Office, Austin Lee Edwards was employed with the Virginia State Police as a trooper, having previously completed the Virginia State Police Academy in January 2022,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement. “Past employers and the Virginia State Police were contacted during the hiring process; however, no employers disclosed any trouble, reprimands, or internal investigations pertaining to Edwards.”

In a statement, Sheriff Blake Andis noted that Edwards had recently begun orientation to be assigned to the patrol division.

“[The] State Police Academy is particularly good at weeding out inappropriate candidates,” security consultant and former police chief Mike Jones told 8News. “However, the psychopathy of people with illnesses like this, they can keep it under control.”

Edwards was shot and killed by San Bernardino County Sheriff’s deputies on Friday, Nov. 25, after authorities in California said he murdered three members of the Winek family in Riverside County. Police said that prior to the murders, Lee had been in a deceptive online relationship with a 15-year-old girl in the family.

“He took an oath to protect, and yet, he failed to do so. Instead, he preyed on the most vulnerable,” Michelle Blandin, the teen’s aunt, said during a news conference on Wednesday. “This was an adult that traveled across the country to kidnap a 15-year-old girl, my niece, our niece, our family member, with the idea to kidnap her and kill and devastate our family.”

Riverside Police Department Public Information Office Ryan Railsback clarified that the agency is not considering this a kidnapping at this point. However, police also said they do not believe the teenage girl was involved in any of the crimes against her family.

Authorities said, after killing the teen’s grandparents, Sharie and Mark Winek, and her mother, Brooke Winek, Edwards set fire to their Riverside County home in an attempt to cover up the murders.

Riverside Police Department officials also revealed Wednesday that Edwards was posing as a 17-year-old in his online interactions in order to form a relationship with the 15-year-old girl. They said they do not yet know on which platform the two connected, nor if any of Edwards’ access or equipment from either VSP or the Washington County Sheriff’s Office was used in the process.

“That tells me that this was going on while he was in the academy,” Jones said. “It’s a possibility that somebody might have known something but was afraid to say it. There might have been a doctor’s visit that was missed or not reported. But this is not something that happened overnight.”

Riverside Police could not provide details during the news conference on the length of Edwards’ correspondence with the teen. But Police Chief Larry Gonzalez raised questions about how these crimes could have happened.

“How did this person get past the background investigation? How did this person get past a polygraph investigation?” he said. “From what we understand so far about him, there’s really not a big rap sheet on this person or anything that would indicate that they could see that outcome.”

According to authorities at Wednesday’s news conference, detectives have been able to speak with the lone survivor of these crimes — the teenage girl. But only preliminarily, as they do not want to overwhelm her. They said that she is in the care of child protective services and is going through trauma therapy.

Police said they still have questions about whether the teenager knew Edwards was coming to California and how he knew where she lived.

“This type of victimization takes place across every platform; social media messaging apps, gaming platforms, et cetera,” Gonzalez said. “Some of the most common tactics that are used to entice children are engaging in a sexual conversation or role-playing as a grooming method; asking a child for sexually explicit images of themselves or mutually sharing images; developing a rapport through compliments, discussing shared interests, or liking their online posts — this is also known as grooming — or sending or offering sexually explicit images of themselves; and also, pretending to be younger.”

Chief Gonzalez said that police believe all of the aforementioned tactics were utilized in this case, but the investigation is still ongoing.

“In this tragic moment of our family, our grief, we hope some good will come from this,” Blandin said. “Parents, please know your child’s online activity. Ask questions about what they are doing and whom they are talking to. Anybody can say they’re someone else, and you could be in this situation, which I do not want for the world.”