1 of 2
Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
In 2004, Elaine Kirsch, seated by her husband, Christopher, holds a photo of their son Nicholas. Another son, Michael, is accused of stabbing Christopher to death.

OREM — There's a garden growing behind the red brick house at 872 N. Main that neighbor Pamela Robbins wonders if she should water.

She watched Christopher Kirsch plant it with the help of his son, Michael.

"He was always helping his parents out in the yard," Robbins said of the 31-year-old man who recently moved back home. "The last two things I saw him doing were painting the cinder-block wall, together (with his dad) as always, and Michael working in the front yard. I waved to him; he waved to me."

But neither father nor son will be back to water, weed or harvest the fruits of their labors together.

Michael Kirsch was arrested Sunday morning, accused of fatally stabbing his father 26 times with a 10-inch meat-carving knife after an argument in their Orem home.

He is being held in the Utah County Jail for investigation of aggravated murder and aggravated assault on a $1 million cash-only bail. The assault allegation stems from a cut suffered on the hand by his mother, Elaine Kirsch.

"There have been many victims as a result of this tragedy," Elaine Kirsch wrote in a statement she left with her LDS bishop. "Mental illness has robbed our family. We love our son and we know he loved us."

Neighborhood friends, professional colleagues and members of the Kirsches' ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are still in shock over the tragedy, trying to come to terms with the death of Christopher Kirsch and the arrest of his son.

"It's a loss for our students, faculty and staff," said Chris Taylor, spokesman for Utah Valley State College, where Christopher Kirsch taught since 2003 as an adjunct professor of geography and Latin American history. "He's served five years here and served our students very well. But more importantly, our thoughts and prayers go out to the family during this very difficult time."

The campus flag flew at half-staff Monday in honor of the educator, Taylor said.

Before coming to the academic world, Christopher Kirsch worked with DHL International and oversaw business operations across Latin America for 16 years, according to UVSC.

Elaine Kirsch is also a teacher, working with special-education students in the Alpine School District.

Another son, Nicholas, has served repeated deployments to Iraq with the U.S. Marines.

Fellow teachers from Greenwood Elementary in American Fork stopped by the Kirsch house Monday afternoon to offer support and love, although Elaine was out-of-town with extended family.

"She's just innately giving," said Cathy Matheson, principal at Greenwood. "She teaches special ed, and these kids have special needs and she ... knows how to connect with them."

The school is gathering financial contributions for the Kirsch family. Those interested can contact Matheson at 801-756-8534, Ext. 4.

The family had recently welcomed their son back into their home, knowing of his violent history and psychiatric problems, according to Orem Police Lt. Doug Edwards. Michael Kirsch had been dealing with schizophrenia for several years, according to court documents.

In 2004, Michael Kirsch was charged with aggravated assault after he slapped a woman, then fought with a man who defended her. He stabbed the man in the left arm at least twice, according to court documents.

His defense attorney, Tom Means, filed a petition inquiring into competency and diminished mental capacity, and in July 2004, Michael Kirsch was declared mentally unable to proceed with his case.

"The court concludes that the defendant is not currently competent to stand trial in that he is suffering from a mental disorder resulting in his inability to have a rational and factual understanding of the proceedings against him," Judge Steven Hansen wrote in a 2004 ruling.

Michael Kirsch spent months in the Utah State Hospital being restored to competency. By April 2005, he pleaded guilty and mentally ill to a third-degree felony of aggravated assault.

He was sent again to the state hospital where he was stabilized enough to be sent to prison, Means said. He was released from prison in March 2007 and is still on parole.

Means, head of the Utah County Public Defenders Association, said a large percentage of the individuals their office defends deal with mental health issues.

"The criminal justice system has become the default system for all of society's ills," Means said. "So we're catching up on the way we deal with mentally ill people. Ideally they (would) never reach this (criminal justice) system because their conditions and their behaviors become apparent to those who have the ability to take care of them before they ever get to the criminal justice system."

Friends said they saw the family doing all they could to take care of Michael Kirsch and that they were always working with him in the garden.

"They worked together as a family all the time," Robbins said. "They were just trying to make a new life here."

The family had lived in the home less than a year, having purchased it from Robbins, who lives behind them.

Brent and Kathy Evans, who moved into the neighborhood a few months after the Kirsches, live on a nearby corner and took over a sympathy card Sunday afternoon.

"They were good people," Brent Evans said.

During the Sunday sacrament meeting, it was announced that there had been a tragedy in the ward, Evans said. The ward is paying for the home to be cleaned while Elaine Kirsch spends time with extended family, Robbins said.

"He was very outgoing," Brent Evans said of Christopher Kirsch, who taught gospel doctrine with his wife.

"And a really good teacher," Kathy Evans added.

"He was very, very intelligent," Brent Evans said. "We're going to miss him. It's a tragedy."


E-mail: sisraelsen@desnews.com