Criminal Justice

Lawyer found with AR-15 in his car is charged with threatening to kill Democratic senators

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A Pennsylvania lawyer has been accused of threatening to kill Democratic members of the U.S. Senate after his arrest with an AR-15 rifle in his car last month.

Prosecutors say Kenelm L. Shirk III, 71, was on his way to Washington, D.C., when he was arrested by state police at a gas station Jan. 21, the Associated Press reports.

Shirk, who lives in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, and has a law office in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, was indicted Feb. 3 for making terroristic threats, federal prosecutors announced Wednesday.

Shirk had initially faced state charges of terroristic threats; the state charges were dropped when the federal charges were filed. Lancaster Online covered the earlier charges.

When police searched Shirk’s car, they found the rifle, two handguns, a large amount of ammunition, rope and gloves, according to police documents reviewed by Lancaster Online.

Police began looking for Shirk after his wife sought his involuntary commitment and said he had threatened to kill her and government officials, according to a state court affidavit cited by the AP and Lancaster Online. Many documents in the federal case are sealed.

Police took Shirk to a hospital for a mental health evaluation after his arrest. At the hospital, Shirk allegedly made a statement to the effect that he would kill his wife, “but not today.” He allegedly told one nurse that he planned to drop off a present for his granddaughter at his son’s house, and he had to leave early so he could reach the homes of government officials before they left for work. He also allegedly said he would shoot the officials in their front yards.

A nurse who looked in Shirk’s briefcase told police that she found 50 small plastic crosses, according to Lancaster Online.

“It was almost as if Shirk intended to leave them at his crime scene,” the nurse told police.

The nurse also allegedly found a to-do list in the briefcase that mentioned the birthday present, along with “guns, ammo, ropes, tools, meds, magazines.”

Shirk was the solicitor for the Akron borough in Lancaster County until Feb. 1, when an interim solicitor was hired. He is a third-generation lawyer, according to his biography. He is a graduate of the Dickinson School of Law and a former law clerk to a state appeals judge.

Shirk’s lawyer, Jay Abom, told the AP that Shirk is well respected and does not belong to any extremist groups.

“Despite appearances and accusations, he never intended to hurt or kill anyone,” Abom said.

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