Report: ‘Catfish’ killer was previously detained for psych help


(NewsNation) — The Virginia sheriff’s deputy who killed the family members of a 15-year-old California girl he tried to sexually extort online had been detained in 2016 for a psychiatric evaluation over threats to kill himself and his father years before he joined law enforcement, according to a police report.

First reported by the Los Angeles Times Dec. 6, a judge reportedly signed a temporary detention order in response to that incident, citing a substantial likelihood that the suspect, Austin Lee Edwards, would seriously hurt himself.

Yet law enforcement agencies in Virginia say they didn’t know, as the 2016 records didn’t come up in a background check.

Photos obtained by NewsNation affiliate WRIC show the weapons authorities believe Edwards, dubbed a “catfish” killer for his online attempts to exploit a minor, may have used.

“It’s not going to come up in a regular records check. It’s one of the things we have to look at to see if there is another way that we can be able to receive that information without being in violation of the ADEA,” Dana Schrad of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police said.

The report raises questions about how Edwards could go on to be hired by state police and later the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in the same county where the 2016 incident occurred.

Schrad said it has prompted a closer look at hiring policies for law enforcement in the Commonwealth.

Weapons Virginia authorities believe Austin Edwards used to try to kill himself in 2016.

“We’re looking at whether we can query the federal (Firearms Transaction Database) and whether that would be helpful when we’re doing employment backgrounds, or whether we need to take another look at the kind of information we can get during the interview process,” she said.

Police in California said Edwards, posing as a 17-year-old, traveled across the country after engaging in a deceptive relationship with a teen girl online.

They say he killed her grandparents and mother and later turned the gun on himself during a shootout with sheriff’s deputies as he tried to escape with the girl.

NewsNation submitted records requests on Edwards to both the Virginia State Police and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, both of which were denied.

However, the sheriff’s office did send a payroll notice, which simply states the date of Edwards’ hire and his salary. It was signed by the sheriff on Nov. 2.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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