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Montgomery county police sergeant shoots son while protecting wife

Police identified the sergeant as James Stirkens, a 27-year veteran of the force. He is assigned as a patrol sergeant in the Silver Spring District. He has been placed on routine administrative leave.

Police said Stirkens, 58, shot his son, Christopher Stirkens, 25. It was not immediately clear why the younger man attacked his mother, Denise Stirkens, 53, in an upstairs bedroom of the family’s house in the 7400 block of Lake Katrine Terrace in Gaithersburg. Denise Stirkens was transported to a local hospital where she was pronounced dead.

Daly said that detectives have spoken with the sergeant about the shooting and that they will examine possible mental health issues with Christopher Stirkens.

“We’re certainly looking at that,” he said.

Shortly after 8 p.m. Wednesday, police received a 911 call about a shooting at the home. The person making the call was the police sergeant. According to initial results of the investigation, the sergeant saw his son attacking his wife.

Rebecca Innocenti, a Montgomery police spokesman, said the sergeant heard some type of commotion, so he went into a bedroom and said he saw his son making a stabbing motion toward his mother.

The sergeant “fired a handgun in an attempt to stop the attack,” Daly said.

In the release, police said “at some point, the officer heard an altercation between the son and mother. The officer came to the aid of his wife who had been stabbed by the son. The exact sequence of events is still under investigation but it is believed that the officer shot his son with a handgun. The officer then called 911.”

Daly said it was too soon to say how many times Stirkens fired or how many times Denise Stirkens was stabbed. Daly said she died shortly after arriving at an area hospital. Christopher Stirkens was pronounced dead at the house. The sergeant stayed on the phone after he called 911.

Daly described the sergeant as not only a longtime police officer but a longtime and respected neighborhood resident.

“He’s a very nice guy. He’s a very low-key, quiet, determined individual,” Daly said.

Daly said Stirkens and his wife have two other children.

Denise Stirkens’s brother, Sgt. Robert Butts, is also a Montgomery County police officer, in the department’s Bethesda district, police said.

Betsy Davis, an assistant county police chief, said she knows James Stirkens from having trained with him in the 1990s.

“He’s just a very nice guy, very low-key, very humble. A family man,” she said. “He’s just a great guy.”

She said police officers know when they are sworn in that they may have to take a life, but she described the situation as “one of the worst tragedies you can ever imagine.”

“You never think you’re going to take your own family member’s life,” she said.

Davis said that in her role as an assistant chief, she never had any problems with Stirkens, who is the commander of a patrol unit.

“Never once did his name negatively come across my desk for anything,” she said. “He was somebody who went out and did his job.”
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