WASHINGTON COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — The Washington County Sheriff’s Office confirmed Monday that there was a previously undisclosed search of former Virginia State Police (VSP) trooper Austin Lee Edwards’ Saltville residence the day before an official search warrant was obtained.
The news comes just days after the Los Angeles Times reported that witnesses had seen two law enforcement officers arrive at Edwards’ home on Friday, Nov. 25, the day of his alleged involvement in the murders of three members of the Winek family out in California.
Police reported that Edwards killed a family in California the day after Thanksgiving, before turning the gun on himself during a shootout with local authorities. Edwards had been communicating with a 15-year-old girl online while posing as a 17-year-old boy. Authorities recently reported that the girl had stopped communicating with him after he asked her to send him nude photos of herself.
According to Washington County Sheriff’s Office, deputies were called to investigate Edwards’ residence while he was on the run in California. A spokesperson said this was an emergency search to ensure that there were no further victims and determine the status of Edwards’ agency-issued weapons.
During the search, deputies reportedly found Edwards’ uniform, duty belt and other police-issued equipment on the residence’s back porch, clearly visible from the outside. Upon further investigation, the deputies determined that his duty weapon was not in its holster and relayed the information to officers in California.
According to authorities, the deputies retrieved Edwards’ uniform, bulletproof vest and duty belt from the back porch. They also took Edwards’ assigned patrol vehicle, which contained his department-issued shotgun and rifle.
Later that evening, the sheriff’s office was notified that the pursuit was over and the kidnapped victim was not injured.
The agency leading the investigation of Edwards’ homicides — the Riverside Police Department — stated that they had no knowledge of this earlier search.
“We are not aware of any activity at the suspect’s home prior to the execution of a search warrant related to our investigation,” a spokesperson for the department said.
Following the pursuit in California — and Edwards’ suicide — the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and Smyth County Sheriff’s Office continued to work with Riverside Police Department to expedite the search warrant process.
A search warrant was obtained and executed on Saturday, Nov. 26, and evidence was recovered from Edwards’ residence. That evidence is now being processed by the FBI, according to authorities.
“Washington County has no jurisdiction whatsoever. Only in the rare event of a felony occurring in their presence should they be in Smyth County for some related reason,” security consultant and former police chief Mike Jones told 8News Monday, just hours before the Washington County Sheriff’s Office released its statement. “This presents a lot of questions about why the sheriff’s department did this; why they didn’t obtain a warrant; why they didn’t coordinate with Smyth County.”