Relatives of the Riverside, California, family killed by a man who "catfished" their teen daughter nearly a year ago filed a lawsuit Thursday against the Virginia sheriff’s office that hired him as a deputy.
Austin Lee Edwards, a former Virginia state trooper then employed by the Washington County, Va., sheriff’s office, killed Mark Winek, 69; Sharie Winek, 65; and Brooke Winek 38, in their Riverside home on the morning of Nov. 25, according to authorities. He set fire to their home and kidnapped Brooke’s then-15-year-old daughter. Police said Edwards, 28, “catfished” the girl by telling her during previous online conversations that he was 17, the Los Angeles Times reports.
After kidnapping the teen, Edwards drove into the Mojave Desert with the girl, where he died in a confrontation with law enforcement. Police initially said he was killed in a shootout but later said he died of a self-inflicted gunshot with his service weapon. The girl wasn’t physically injured.
In a lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Central California, the teen’s aunt, Mychelle Blandin, sued the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and Edwards’ estate for damages, citing violation of 4th Amendment rights, battery and negligent hiring, supervision and retention, among other allegations. Blandin, who is the guardian of the 15-year-old’s younger sister, has also sued on behalf of the younger child, and is seeking unspecified financial compensation.