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Virginia Sheriff Sued After “Catfishing” Deputy Kills Family of California Teen Victim

A lawsuit filed on November 26, 2023, lays out the bizarre story of a Virginia Sheriff’s deputy who “catfished” a California teen and murdered her family before abducting her and then turning his gun on himself as police closed in.

Austin Lee Edwards was a Virginia State Trooper near Richmond before resigning to become a deputy of Washington County Sheriff Blake Andis—300 miles away in the small town of Abingdon—on November 16, 2022. Nine days later, the 28-year-old drove 2,275 miles across the country to the Southern California home of a 15-year-old he had allegedly been “catfishing” over the internet by pretending to be a 17-year-old boy.

In the suit filed in federal court in the Central District of California, Mychelle Blandin, the aunt of the young victim, “B.W.,” recalled that Edwards pretended to be a police detective in order to gain entry into the Riverside home shared by the girl and her mom, Brooke Winek, 38, who was Blandin’s sister, as well as their parents, Mark Winek, 69, and Sharie Winek, 65. A neighbor who saw the girl leave with Edwards grew suspicious and called the cops.

They arrived and found the three Wineks shot dead inside the home. A nearby home was on fire. The neighbor provided a description of Edward’s vehicle, which police tracked to San Bernardino County, almost 180 miles away. There Edwards allegedly opened fire on them and then fatally shot himself. The girl was unharmed.

Blandin’s suit accuses Sheriff Andis of negligence in Edwards’ hiring, noting a 2016 court order restricting Edwards’ access to firearms after he cut himself and threatened to kill his father. That prompted state police to order a mental health evaluation, but a review of Edwards’ hiring by the state inspector general confirmed that those evaluation results were missed.

Edwards’ estate was also named a defendant, but no representative responded to the suit; the Court entered default judgment against it for Blandin on March 26, 2024. Plaintiffs are represented by attorney Alison P. Saros of Saros Law APC in El Segundo, with co-counsel from Taylor and Ring LLP in Manhattan Beach. See: Blandin v. Washington Cty. Sheriff’s Office, USDC (C.D. Calif.), Case No. 5:23-cv-02344.

 

Additional sources: The Guardian, KKTV, NPR News, WRIC

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Related legal case

Blandin v. Washington Cty. Sheriff’s Office