Kenelm Shirk

Kenelm L. Shirk III, an ex-Ephrata attorney, is charged with making terroristic threats to shoot government officials around Washington, D.C. Pennsylvania State Police arrested him Jan. 21. as he was headed south on Interstate 81.

The disbarred Ephrata lawyer arrested early this year as authorities said he drove to Washington, D.C., with guns, ammunition and a plan to kill Democrats in Congress will not be released from jail while he awaits trial.

Federal Judge Jennifer Wilson of the Middle District of Pennsylvania denied Kenelm Shirk’s request following a hearing held earlier this month. 

In her one-page order, Wilson wrote “no condition or combination of conditions will reasonably assure the appearance of the defendant and safety of any other person and the community.” 

Shirk’s arrest happened on Jan. 21, the day after President Joe Biden’s inauguration. According to police, Shirk, 72, argued about the presidential election with his wife, then left his home in Cornwall, Lebanon County. Concerned about his mental health, Shirk’s wife sought an involuntary commitment, a process that resulted in a police bulletin being issued.

Pennsylvania State Police arrested Shirk at a gas station near Shippensburg as he was on his way to Washington. Police said they found an AR-15 rifle, two handguns, ammunition, rope, gloves and about $5,000 in his Subaru Forester.

Shirk is charged with one count of threatening to murder Democratic U.S. senators. He’s been incarcerated since Jan. 22.

His attorney, John Abom, has said that despite appearances, Shirk had no intention of killing anyone and wasn’t a member of any group seeking to overthrow the government.

Abom said he, Shirk and Shirk’s family were disappointed in the ruling, noting Shirk is being detained even though he is presumed innocent and despite information presented at the hearing supporting his release. 

A psychologist who evaluated Shirk in April found him to be at a low risk of harming himself or others and “reasoned the alleged events leading to Kenelm’s arrest ‘represent an isolated incident of behavior for Mr. Shirk’” made worse by drinking, according to court documents.

“The federal court system has very strict rules about who can be released and under what circumstances,” Abom said Tuesday. He added he presumed the judge determined Shirk still presents a danger to the community, though Wilson didn’t cite her reasoning. 

Wilson still must rule on whether statements Shirk made to police can be admitted, Abom said. Shirk was taken into custody before police had a reason, Abom said, a fact he argued would make the statements inadmissible at trial

Shirk's former firm, Shirk Law Associates in Ephrata, had been the longtime solicitor for Akron Borough, but Akron dropped the firm shortly after Shirk’s arrest. The state Supreme Court disbarred him in May.

Shirk comes from a family with a history of community service and political involvement. His father, K.L.Shirk, who died in 2006, was an attorney and long active in Lancaster County’s Republican Committee, serving as chairman of the party from 1964-71. Shirk’s grandfather was Lancaster County’s district attorney.

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