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US Attorney: Lebanon County man threatened to murder Democratic members of US Senate
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US Attorney: Lebanon County man threatened to murder Democratic members of US Senate

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The US capital has been heavily fortified over fears more violence could erupt ahead of Joe Biden's inauguration.

A Lebanon County man threatened to kill Democrats in the U.S. Senate and was on his way to Washington, D.C., with firearms and a “large amount of ammunition” when he was stopped by state police, federal prosecutors said Wednesday in announcing charges.

Kenelm L. Shirk, 71, was indicted Feb. 3 by a federal grand jury, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania said. Shirk pleaded not guilty at his initial court appearance and was locked up pending trial. His lawyer said Shirk had no intent to kill anyone.

Shirk was arrested by Pennsylvania State Police at a gas station near Shippensburg on Jan. 21, the day after Joe Biden was inaugurated president and a little more than two weeks after a violent, pro-Donald Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol. A search of Shirk’s car recovered an AR-15 rifle, two handguns and a box of ammunition, according to police.

An indictment said that Shirk threatened to “murder Democratic United States senators with the intent to impede and/or to retaliate against them on account of the performance of their official duties.” Most of the federal court documents in the case are sealed, and it wasn’t clear whether prosecutors are alleging that Shirk targeted specific Democrats.

Police began looking for Shirk after his ex-wife reported he had threatened to kill her as well as government officials in the Washington area, according to an affidavit filed in state court. Police spotted his car at a gas station just off the interstate, about two hours north of Washington, and arrested him without incident.

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After his arrest, Shirk was taken to a hospital for an emergency mental health evaluation. One nurse told police that Shirk threatened to kill his ex-wife, “but not today.” He also made a comment that he had to get up early enough to “beat traffic” and make it to government officials’ houses before they left for work in Washington, the nurse said.

Another nurse reported that Shirk told her he’d “had an argument with his wife over the results of the recent presidential election,” the affidavit said. She said that when hospital staff opened his briefcase to look for his phone, they found 30 rounds of ammunition, $5,000 in cash, rubber gloves, a handwritten list that said “guns, ammo, rope, tools, meds, magazines,” and a bag filled with about 50 small plastic crosses.

The nurse said Shirk frightened her, and “she had a strong gut feeling and instinct that this was more than just a guy who was having a bad day and angry about the election,” the affidavit said.

His attorney, Jay Abom, told the Associated Press that the incident began as a domestic dispute, adding that Shirk is a “long-time and well-respected member” of the legal community and does not belong to any right-wing extremist organization or movement.

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

Before his arrest, Shirk had been solicitor for Akron borough in Lancaster County.

State charges of terroristic threats were withdrawn after Shirk was charged in federal court.

The case was investigated by the FBI, state police, Franklin County District Attorney’s Office, Cornwall Police Department, and the Washington, D.C., Capitol Police.

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