SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY, Calif. (WRIC) — The former Virginia State Police (VSP) trooper who authorities said was responsible for a triple homicide across the country in California died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to a recent autopsy report from the San Bernardino County Coroner’s Office.
The autopsy was conducted on Austin Lee Edwards, 28, of North Chesterfield, Va. on Tuesday, Nov. 29, according to the coroner’s office.
Authorities released the update on Edwards’ manner of death just days after originally reporting that the Virginia law enforcement officer was killed by sheriff’s deputies in a shootout in Kelso, Calif.
“When they encountered him, the suspect shot at them numerous times,” Riverside Police Department Public Information Officer Ryan Railsback said in an earlier interview. “A deputy-involved shooting occurred, and the suspect was struck and pronounced deceased at the scene.”
Edwards was named as a suspect by the Riverside Police Department in a triple murder that happened on Friday, Nov. 25. Authorities said he killed three members of the Winek family in Riverside County and set fire to their home to cover it up, after engaging in a deceptive online relationship with a 15-year-old girl in the family.
According to the initial information released by the San Bernardino County Coroner’s Office, on Nov. 15 at about 1:15 p.m., deputies observed a red Kia Soul driving on Highway 247. They said that the vehicle matched the description of Edwards’ wanted vehicle, and that the suspect was believed to be armed and dangerous.
Both Sheriff’s Aviation and California Highway Patrol’s Aviation followed the Kia Soul from a distance until Sheriff’s Specialized Enforcement Division (SWAT) could catch up, according to the coroner’s office. Detectives said that the vehicle traveled south on Highway 247, then east on Highway 62 and ultimately to Kelso Cima Road.
“It’s an unincorporated area, very desolate,” Railsback previously said. “There’s nothing around for miles in this desert area.”
According to the sheriff’s office, as SWAT intercepted Edwards’ car, he fled and led deputies on a chase, during which time he shot at the deputies, striking their SWAT vehicle multiple times. Edwards reportedly lost control of his car and the chase ended when he drove off the road.
Authorities said the 15-year-old girl whom he had “catfished” was in the car with him, but was able to exit at that point and be rescued by sheriff’s deputies.
As Edwards exited the vehicle, authorities said he pointed a gun at the sheriff’s helicopter, and deputies fired back at him. Upon contact, detectives said that Edwards was unresponsive and pronounced dead at the scene. But the new information from the coroner’s office revealed that the manner of death was actually suicide.
“This horrific event started with an inappropriate online romance between a predator and a child,” a family member of the victims said during a news conference this week. “We have some solace that this person will never harm anyone again, especially a minor. But we also want to make it very clear that we do not applaud his death. He took an oath to protect, and yet, he failed to do so.”