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Former Lancaster County lawyer pleads guilty to planning attack on US government officials

Kenelm Shirk, 72, was arrested last year in Shippensburg after telling his wife he was traveling to Washington D.C. to attack unspecified government leaders.

CORNWALL, Pa. — Editor's Note: The above video is from Feb. 3, 2021.

A former Lancaster County attorney charged with planning an attack on unspecified government leaders after an argument with his ex-wife last year pleaded guilty to one count of threatening to murder a U.S. official in U.S. District Court Monday, according to court records.

72-year-old Kenelm Shirk of Cornwall, Lebanon County will be sentenced by U.S. Middle District Court Judge Jennifer Wilson later this year after a background check is completed.

Shirk was arrested near Shippensburg on Jan. 21, 2021 after State Police troopers stationed along Interstate 81 intercepted him.

Shirk's wife at the time had contacted authorities after arguing with him over the results of the 2020 presidential election and the Jan. 6 riot in Washington, D.C.

She claimed Shirk threatened her life and told her he was planning to attack government officials in Washington. Shirk also allegedly claimed he would "suicide by cop" if met by police along the way, according to police.

According to the criminal complaint filed against him at the time, State Police pinged his cell phone to determine his location and took him into custody at 8:25 p.m. on Jan. 21, hours after his departure from his Cornwall home. Police confiscated a rifle, handguns and ammunition, which were clearly visible in his vehicle at the time of his arrest.

On Jan. 22, police said, a nurse at the Chambersburg Hospital Emergency Room who performed a mental evaluation on Shirk after his capture told police he sounded serious when he spoke of killing his wife and members of the government. 

If Shirk had gone on to complete his plan, she told police, "she did not want to see it on the news and feel like she was responsible," according to the complaint.

Police took Shirk to the hospital for an evaluation related to the request from Shirk's wife that he be involuntarily committed, the complaint states.

During her evaluation, the nurse told police, Shirk allegedly said he would "kill his wife, but not today" in a monotone, deadpan voice. 

He allegedly told the nurse he had planned to stop in Alexandria, Virginia to see his son and deliver a present for his granddaughter. 

He also said he "had to get up early enough to beat traffic and make it to the government officials' houses before they left for work" in Washington, the complaint states. 

Shirk allegedly said he was 71 years old and inferred that he was ready to die, the nurse told police. 

A second ER nurse who spoke to police on the phone after Shirk's visit to the ER said that, while looking through Shirk's possessions, she found a piece of paper with a to-do list on it. 

The list mentioned things like birthday gifts and other daily activities, the nurse reported. But on the other side of the page, there were things like "guns, ammo, rope, tools, meds, magazine" written down. The nurse said she took a picture of the list, which she provided to police, according to the complaint.

In a briefcase belonging to Shirk, one nurse found a bag of 50 quarter-sized plastic crosses.

"It was almost as if (Shirk) intended to leave them at the crime scene," the nurse told police, according to the complaint.

Both nurses reported they found Shirk to be intimidating and disconcerting. 

One of the nurses, who said she had been in the medical field for 16 years, reported she found Shirk's behavior particularly disturbing, and did not want to go to work knowing a patient like him was at the hospital. 

"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," police said in the complaint.

Shirk, who served as an attorney at the time of his arrest, was disbarred by the Disciplinary Board of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court last May.

Shirk's former firm, Shirk Law Associates, served as solicitor for the borough of Akron prior to his arrest. The borough dropped his firm shortly after his arrest.

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