Austin Lee Edwards was a Virginia police officer who shot and killed three family members of a Riverside girl aged 15. Police say that Edwards never had his Richmond apartment searched. “catfished” online.
A judge approved Edwards’ eviction from that apartment Wednesday. The eviction proceedings are now official. Any evidence found within may be destroyed or removed, if not already.
Edwards was also responsible for the kidnapping of Riverside’s 15-year-old boy. a 13-year-old girlHe even asked for nude photos of the woman he was interested in, even though she had already disclosed her age. Experts agree that predators are often victims of multiple victims. Therefore, any evidence, particularly technology or paper files can help police to find out about other children or abusers.
Riverside Police Department, which is leading investigation into the murders did not feel the need to search apartment.
“We did not need to in relation to our investigation,” Ryan Railsback, a spokesman for the department, said in a statement. Officials had “already had items seized from his [Saltville] house that are relevant to our murder investigation,” Railsback added.
Riverside police only searched Edwards’ newly purchased white Cape Cod-style home in Saltville, Va., which he bought shortly before the murders. The Smyth County Sheriff’s Department helped execute that search on Nov. 26, the day after the killings.
The Chesterfield County police department and sheriff’s office did not search Edwards’ Richmond-area apartment either, officials there said.
Police will eventually seek a warrant to search for evidence that Edwards may have abused other victims. William Pelfrey, a professor of criminal justice at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Wilder School of Government. “He is dead. There is no case against him. But if there were other victims or firearms, that seems like something police would want to know,” he said.
Police may be reluctant to search Edwards’ apartment because having an officer commit murder and pursue children sexually is “not a good look” for law enforcement, Pelfrey said.
“There may be little interest among police to pursue information about other victims,” he added. He noted that if Edwards’ landlord told authorities that the apartment was vacant, then the police would not need to search the residence.
A visit to Edwards’ apartment Wednesday indicated that at least some items belonging to him may still be inside. The apartment was two stories high and the blinds were shut. A reporter couldn’t see much of the kitchen which seemed empty. Through the sliding glass door at the back, what appeared to be a shirt label dated February 2022 by Flying Cross, which sells uniforms for law enforcement, could be seen.
Through the glass door, a blue-green ball that appeared to be a toy for cats was visible. Edwards was the owner of a female cat for many years.
The blinds on Edwards’ second-floor window were broken and two pieces of mail were attached to the front door knob with rubber bands. One envelope looked like an eviction notice. The second was an envelope that appeared to be an eviction notice. It asked tenants to clean their porches. Outside the front door, a pair of worn black Air Jordans was visible. The back patio was empty.
Asked in an email whether Edwards’ landlord told Riverside police if his apartment was vacant, Railsback replied: “If there is any relevance to our investigation, the local authorities will contact our detectives.”
The local authorities — the Chesterfield County Police — are not involved in the Edwards investigation, Elizabeth Caroon, a spokesperson for the department, said in an email.
Samantha Pallett, chief operating officer for Levco Management, declined to comment when a Times reporter asked by phone if the company had been inside Edwards’ apartment or if it had spoken with police in Riverside. “Per our company policy, I am not able to comment on the matter,” said Pallett, who hung up when the reporter asked her to detail the policy.
Police should search Edwards’ apartment for evidence that could shed light on the killings or identify other victims who may need services, Jane Manning, a former New York City sex crimes prosecutor and current director of the Women’s Equal Justice Project, told The Times. She suggested that any electronic devices Edwards used to communicate with predators could prove extremely useful.
The possession and use of child pornography and the abuse of real children can overlap, Manning said, adding that it’s common for predators to share child pornography. “Some predators use pornography to groom children,” she said. “Some predators use pornography to facilitate their own planning of the crimes they want to commit.”
“Edwards is not someone who acted on a sudden impulse that he quickly regretted,” she added. “This is someone who sought out and groomed an underaged kid. This was a pattern he repeated. This shows that he was deeply committed in abusing children. It is virtually certain there are more victims.”
However, police may not have had the opportunity to search the house before they did. Edwards was behind on his rent before the murders and his landlord tried to expel him.
According to Lynn Cosner (Chesterfield General District Court Civil Supervisor), Edwards owed $804 November rent, $80.40 for late fees and $61 for court costs. He also owed $90 in damages for utilities.
At the Wednesday hearing, Judge Keith Hurley dismissed the case, citing Edwards’ death.
Speaking to an attorney representing the property management company, Hurley said, “You know who that is, right?” The attorney said she did and both noted the presence of a reporter in the courtroom.
Edwards’ employment by law enforcement agencies has come under intense scrutiny. Edwards was a Virginia State Police officer for nine months in the last year. He joined the Washington County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy nine days before the Riverside killings.
Last month, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin asked the state’s inspector general to probe the state police’s hiring of Edwards. Edwards informed the state police that he had checked himself in to a mental facility in 2016 when he applied. That disclosure should have prompted further investigation, but didn’t, Gary Settle, the state police superintendent, wrote in a Dec. 30 letter. The state police did not search databases for Edwards’ mental health history before hiring him as an officer, Settle wrote.
Two deputies from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, the law enforcement agency that employed Edwards immediately before his death, removedThe official search was conducted in the same day as the items were taken from the victim’s home in a neighboring state. The search was justified by the authorities, who claimed they were protecting the public.
There is no indication that the Washington County Sheriff’s Office is under investigation.
Logan reported from Brooklyn. Lin was from Los Angeles. Griset and Nocera were from Chesterfield.
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