CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Newly released documents from Virginia State Police’s (VSP) hiring of Austin Edwards revealed that the would-be killer disclosed previous admittance to a mental health facility to authorities during his application process to become a trooper.
Edwards was named by police in Riverside, Calif., as the lone suspect in a triple murder that happened there the day after Thanksgiving.
As 8News previously reported, documents from Washington County, Va. — where Edwards would go on to be hired as a sheriff’s deputy just days before committing these murders — detailed a violent 2016 incident in Abingdon, Va., in which Edwards threatened to kill himself and his father in the presence of authorities.
In learning about this incident, 8News asked VSP whether the agency had any knowledge of what had happened several years prior to Edwards’ application for employment as a trooper. A spokesperson did not directly answer that question, but instead sent a statement: “At no point during the hiring process or during his 15 months with the department did Edwards disclose any incidents that would have disqualified him from employment.”
The investigation into the murders of the Winek family in Riverside, Calif. is still ongoing. But a preliminary timeline shows how Edwards arrived at that point:
- Feb. 8, 2016 – Authorities respond to Edwards’ father’s apartment in Abingdon, Va., to find Edwards with a self-inflicted “serious cut to his left hand.” He is hospitalized and tells police that he would kill himself and his father once freed from handcuffs. A judge issues a temporary detention order, and Edwards is checked into a psychiatric facility.
- July 6, 2021 – Edwards enters the VSP Academy.
- Jan. 21, 2022 – Edwards graduates from the VSP Academy and is assigned to Henrico County within the agency’s Richmond Division.
- Oct. 28, 2022 – Edwards resigns from VSP.
- Nov. 14, 2022 – Edwards buys a home in Saltville, Va.
- Nov. 16, 2022 – Edwards begins his employment with the Washington County Virginia Sheriff’s Office.
- Nov. 25, 2022 – Edwards murders three members of the Winek family in Riverside, Calif., and later kills himself in a shootout with authorities in California. Washington County Sheriff’s deputies conduct an “emergency entrance” search of his Saltville home back in Virginia.
- Nov. 26, 2022 – A search warrant is obtained and executed by the Smyth County Virginia Sheriff’s Office for Edwards’ Saltville home.
Hiring documents from Edwards’ entrance into VSP, obtained by private investigator and former law enforcement officer Jeff Pike, showed that the agency had at least some knowledge of an incident with Edwards in 2016.
“He admits to drug use, but in the description of the drug use, claims that it was accidental, which you know, seems a little suspicious to me,” Pike said. “He says that he had admitted himself to a mental facility voluntarily, which is a lie. That also contradicts the State Police’s statement that they had no clue about this.”
Pike says that although it’s hard to predict, he believes the tragic killing could have been prevented.
“You can what-if it to death, but, you know, it would have been a much greater chance that it may not have happened if he never did become a police officer,” Pike said. “Maybe [he] wouldn’t have had access to a weapon. Maybe the next time he did try to buy a weapon, this mental thing would have flagged something.”
Speaking in Richmond yesterday, Gov. Glenn Younkin called for an investigation and more transparency from the agency.
“The free exchange of information and understanding of what goes into a background check … needs to be made readily available and fully understood,” Youngkin said. “And so, I have asked for a full investigation, and I look forward to that investigation. Our job is to not let this happen again.”