Wife is fatally shot, husband wounded

  • Article by: HERÓN MÁRQUEZ ESTRADA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 26, 2010 - 11:10 AM

27-year-old man told St. Paul police he and his wife were shot by a burglar.

Branden O'Connor was watching "Stepbrothers" while house-sitting Sunday in St. Paul when the movie's chatter was interrupted by noises he wishes he hadn't heard: the muffled pops of gunfire and a man crying in pain.

"It was kind of scary," said O'Connor, who had been caring for his girlfriend's kittens and house in the 1700 block of Minnehaha Avenue W., in the Hamline-Midway neighborhood. "I heard a lot, a lot more than I wish I had. I heard a guy pleading, saying, 'Please stop, you shot me and you shot her.'"

St. Paul police said the shots were fired next door, where a shotgun was used to kill a young woman and wound her husband in their home in an apparent burglary.

Late Sunday, authorities identified the dead woman as Heidi Marie Firkus, 25. Her husband, Nicholas Firkus, 27, was wounded.

Investigators said the double-barreled shotgun found at the scene belonged to the husband, who said he took it downstairs to investigate the noise.

Nicholas Firkus told police it went off while he struggled with a burglar near the front door at 6:30 a.m. Sunday.

Heidi Firkus was shot once and died at the scene, according to police spokesman Sgt. Paul Schnell.

Nicholas Firkus was shot once in the leg and taken to Regions Hospital. He was treated and released Sunday.

Although the initial call came in as a possible burglary, Schnell said investigators have found no obvious sign of a break-in. Also, he said, there were no obvious signs of a protracted struggle in the home.

He said that investigators have talked to Nicholas Firkus about the incident but that as of Sunday night, he was not considered a suspect.

Schnell said the investigation is just starting and "we will go wherever the evidence takes us."

An autopsy was scheduled Monday, Schnell said. He said he expected no further comment until results became available possibly later Monday. Investigators were inspecting the house, he said.

The initial call for help came from inside the residence when someone called to report hearing an intruder coming through the front door.

Schnell said Nicholas Firkus told police that he had grabbed his shotgun and walked down the stairs, where he met the burglar. The husband said Heidi had followed him, Schnell said.

Nicholas Firkus told investigators that when he confronted the burglar the two struggled and the shotgun went off once, killing his wife. Nicholas said that he and the burglar continued to struggle and that he was shot in the leg, Schnell said.

Officers who arrived at the scene within minutes found no sign of a burglar or any obvious signs of a break-in at the front door or elsewhere in the house, Schnell said.

It also did not appear that anything was taken from the home, he said, but investigators were still processing the scene late Sunday afternoon.

No one had been arrested as of Sunday night. Nicholas Firkus described the burglar as a man about 6 feet 2 who was wearing a dark-hooded sweatshirt, Schnell said. He could not provide a race for the suspect.

Although the incident was being treated as a stranger-on-stranger crime Sunday night, "we don't have anything that says there is an immediate threat to the neighborhood," Schnell said.

That did little to alleviate the concern of neighbors, who gathered on Sunday to talk about what had happened.

"I hope it was not a random deal," said Conor Corniea, who lives behind the home where the shooting took place.

O'Connor, the house sitter, said he did not know the Firkuses except to say hello in passing. He and other neighbors said the two were quiet and kept to themselves.

O'Connor, 24, said he never heard Heidi Firkus scream Sunday morning during the shooting. "I heard [Nicholas]," he said. "He sounded like he was in a lot of pain and scared."

O'Connor said he tried to call police but did not have any minutes on his cell phone. Also, his girlfriend's house doesn't have any telephone land lines, so he had no way to immediately contact police, he said.

"I feel bad," he said. "I got on the computer and tried to e-mail my mom to have her call police. That's what eats me up the most, that I couldn't call for help right away."

Heron Marquez Estrada • 612-673-4280

Do you know Heidi Firkus, who died in a shooting in St. Paul on Sunday? If so, please contact reporter Kevin Giles at 612-673-4432 on Monday.

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