Authorities blame ‘human error’ for hiring ex-trooper accused of ‘catfishing’ teen and killing her family

Authorities blame ‘human error’ for hiring ex-trooper accused of ‘catfishing’ teen and killing her family

Authorities in Virginia said Wednesday that “human error” led to the hiring of a former state trooper accused of killing a California family after he “catfished” their teenage relative.  

In a statement, Virginia State Police said an administrative review found “human error resulted in an incomplete database query” during the hiring process for Austin Edwards, 28. Police didn’t provide details about the error.

“Although we believe this to be an isolated incident, steps are currently underway to ensure the error is not repeated going forward,” the statement said. “The department is also proactively auditing existing personnel records and practices.”

The statement added that Edwards didn’t disclose anything that would have disqualified him from the job.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times reported that a police report showed that Edwards threatened to kill his father and himself in 2016 and was detained for a psychiatric evaluation.

NBC News has not confirmed the details of the report, and Wednesday’s police statement didn’t address the matter.

Virginia State Police previously said a background check found no “indicators of concern” when Edwards was hired. He graduated from the state police academy on Jan. 21 and resigned Oct. 28.

Monthly performance evaluations required for all sworn personnel found Edwards’ behavior didn’t trigger any administrative or internal investigations, Wednesday’s statement said.

The police agency has declined to say why he resigned, citing a state law barring it from discussing personnel matters. The agency denied a public records request from NBC News seeking personnel files.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office, where Edwards was hired after he resigned from Virginia State Police, said past employers contacted during the hiring process didn’t report any reprimands or internal investigations.

Washington County Sheriff Blake Andis didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday night about a possible review of its hiring process.

Authorities believe Edwards killed the teen’s mother, Brooke Winek, 38, and grandparents, Mark Winek, 69, and Sharie Winek, 65, at their home in Riverside, east of Los Angeles, on Nov. 25. Authorities think the home was intentionally set on fire.

Afterward, Edwards drove off with the 15-year-old, Riverside police have said. Authorities believe he had previously “catfished” the teen, or portrayed himself online as someone else — a 17-year-old — to interact with her.  

The police department previously said Edwards died in a shootout with authorities in nearby San Bernardino County, but Riverside police spokesman Ryan Railsback said Wednesday that authorities now think he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Authorities have not said how the Wineks died. Railsback said that their autopsies are completed but that an investigation into their manner and cause of death continues.

The teen, who wasn’t injured, was placed with child protective services after the killings and was receiving trauma counseling.

Tim Stelloh is a breaking news reporter for NBC News Digital.

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