For Nick Kirk, deputy shot in Ronnie Lee Gardner's escape attempt, attack 'took his life away'
"My parents had a fit at first, but he won them over. They really started liking him," VelDean Kirk said.
Later, he joined what was termed the sheriff's office reserves, a volunteer group, and eventually became a court bailiff. He was particularly fond of Judge Sawaya, and the two socialized outside of work.
Through the years, the Kirks had five children: Barbara, Michael, Mary (who died last year), Debra (who died as a baby) and Tamara.
Nick Kirk made friends easily, doted on his wife and family and relished holidays — especially Halloween. In court, he was strict and expected everyone to act respectfully. Outside of court, he chatted with everyone and had coffee with reporters.
He was always active and loved the outdoors. Free time was spent fishing, hunting, boating, bowling — you name it.
"When we were done with work, we would jump in the camper and go on vacation," VelDean Kirk recalls.
There was a time when VelDean would rage when Gardner's name came up.
"I used to really hate him. Every time I would see his picture, I felt I could kill him with my bare hands," Kirk said.
One thing that especially galled her were reports that Gardner bragged to other inmates, saying, "I shot a cop!"
Kirk believes the death penalty is appropriate for Gardner, but she said she is now free of the anger she once felt.
"Maybe I've changed," said the white-haired woman while looking over family scrapbooks in the kitchen of a daughter's home.
"Now I just kind of feel sorry for him. It was his choice. I think he should pay for the crimes he has committed and, since he was given the death penalty, he should go through that. It's the right punishment for him. He's taken so many lives and screwed up so many lives."
Kirk has been invited to witness Gardner's execution by firing squad. She'll be there, but said she is not seeking revenge.
"I want closure on it," she said. "I think that's the only way I'll get it."
When her husband was alive, he supported Gardner being executed. "He had been in the courts long enough to know they need to pay for their crimes."
To this day, there is one thing about Gardner that perplexes VelDean.
"I would like to know why he shot Nick because he knew Nick," she said. "He'd been in court several times, and he knew Nick didn't have a gun."
In those days, public buildings were far less secure: Bailiffs did not have guns or even radios for communication.
Today, VelDean Kirk enjoys her family and focuses mainly on the good memories of her late husband, although regrets sometimes creep in.
"He loved life, even though he had health problems from the shooting. He loved the kids and grandkids," she said.
"There are 13 great-grandchildren, and he's missed out on 10. … If he were alive today, he probably would still be bowling with the judge. And me, too, naturally."
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