Friends seek justice for St. Paul woman’s death years later
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The girls who grew up with Heidi Firkus thought they would all be friends forever.
She was an artist and she handmade cards, filling them with messages of hope for those closest to her.
She enjoyed bringing people together for dinner parties at the St. Paul house she shared with her husband.
“She just was unapologetically excited and loved life,” said Jessie Bain, who was friends with Firkus since they were on the same basketball team in elementary school. “She loved God and her friends and family, and she saw the best in people.”
Her closest friends never imagined she wouldn’t be there for their weddings. Or that she would not share in the experience as they became mothers.
Heidi Firkus, 25, was killed April 25, 2010. Her husband, Nicholas Firkus, told police that someone broke into their Hamline-Midway home in St. Paul about 6:30 a.m., and he grabbed his shotgun.
Nicholas Firkus said he struggled with the intruder, the gun went off and Heidi was shot in the back.
The case remains unsolved, with no one arrested or charged.
Police say their investigation continues and they have resubmitted crime scene evidence for additional DNA testing — since technology has improved over the years — as recently as last month.
Newly released information also provides the first public account of what Nicholas Firkus told a 911 operator. He has not spoken to the media.
Now that nine years have passed, those who knew Heidi Firkus miss and mourn her. And her friends are also angry about the lack of justice for Firkus and her family, the Twin Cities Pioneer Press reported.
After Heidi Firkus died, her parents and closest friends found out that she and Nicholas were to be evicted from their home the following day because of foreclosure.
They are sure Heidi would have told them if she knew that, though her parents said Nicholas Firkus told them she did. Police reported that nothing in the house had been packed.
“There are so many things that don’t add up,” said Ashley Starr, who was friends with Firkus since they were teens.
Nicholas Firkus, then 27, told 911 that he heard someone break into their house on Minnehaha Avenue, near Fairview Avenue, according to a 911 transcript released by police at the Pioneer Press’ request. He said he woke his wife so she could run to the garage.
Heidi Firkus was the first to dial 911.
She reported, “Someone’s trying to break in to my house,” and gave her address. Then, there was a loud sound and a scream of “NO!!,” according to the transcript.
A 911 operator couldn’t reach her again.
Nicholas Firkus called 911 next, starting the call with, “Help me!” and, “Please, please, someone just broke in our house and shot me and my wife.”
During the call, he sobbed hysterically. He said, “Oh, my Heidi!” and, “My wife is dead! Please get here!” He also shouted “No!” repeatedly.
Firkus said he was in the kitchen with his wife. He said he was shot in his thigh and groin.
He answered the 911 operator’s questions:
— Is the person that shot you still there? No.
— What race was he? I don’t know.
— Do you remember what he was wearing? No, maybe a sweatshirt.
— Did you shoot back? No!
After Firkus talked with police, they publicly provided the description he gave of the assailant: A male, unknown race, 6 feet to 6 feet 2 inches tall, 200 to 220 pounds, wearing a dark, hooded sweatshirt.
Nearly three weeks later, police released a composite sketch drawn by an artist hired by Firkus’ attorney. In his description then, Firkus added that the man was black and 40 to 60 years old.
Firkus talked to police the day Heidi died. His attorney at the time, Joe Friedberg, has said he told Firkus not to speak to investigators further because he had “provided them all the information that he can possibly provide them with.”
A year after Heidi Firkus was killed, the supervisor of the St. Paul police homicide unit said Nicholas Firkus had not been eliminated as a possible suspect.
Friedberg said then that he believed Nicholas Firkus was a “victim and not a perpetrator.”
Firkus did not respond to recent messages from the Pioneer Press.
Heidi Firkus’ friends said she was earnest and truthful, and she would have been open about needing to move, but they heard nothing about the foreclosure.
“She was never ashamed about being vulnerable or having hard conversations,” Bain said.
The couple, who were married for four-and-a-half years, both agreed he would manage their finances, according to John and Linda Erickson, Heidi’s parents.
A court record shows the Firkuses’ house, which they moved into in September 2007, was the subject of a sheriff’s foreclosure sale in June 2009.
Around that time, the Firkuses’ insurance agent, Curt Brown, received notice that the couple’s home insurance was canceled because of foreclosure.
Brown was concerned, but it wasn’t about business. He has been friends with Heidi’s parents since they went to college together and knew Heidi her whole life.
Brown called and reached Nicholas Firkus, who told him “a teller or somebody had been stealing his paychecks and he was working to resolve that issue with the bank,” Brown said recently. “I remember thinking, ‘I’ve been around this business long enough to know that you don’t go into a foreclosure because a teller steals your paycheck.’ ”
He said he’s convinced that “if Heidi knew the dire circumstances they were in, she would have gone for help, knowing that her parents would have helped.”
In the months before she was killed, Heidi Firkus told her parents they were looking for an apartment, though Linda Erickson said her daughter didn’t express urgency about moving.
Heidi talked about downsizing to save money to buy another house in the future, where they would raise a family, her mother said.
Things didn’t seem out of the ordinary for Heidi Firkus, her friends and family say.
In February 2010, the Firkuses traveled to Hawaii. Heidi told her mother that Nicholas was getting a bonus at work that would help pay for the trip.
Eight days before the sheriff’s office was supposed to evict them from their home on April 26, 2010, Heidi Firkus invited Christa Gibbs — Brown’s daughter and her lifelong friend — over to play badminton. She said they had just gotten a set for their yard.
On April 24, 2010, the day before Heidi was killed, a friend who arrived at their house found the Firkuses checking out new sleeping bags in their living room for summer camping.
No packing boxes were visible in the house, said the friend, who asked not to be named for her safety.
Heidi Firkus and her friend left to go shopping at the Mall of America. Heidi was her usual self — bubbly and positive, her friend said.
She talked about wanting to have a burger for dinner and getting a pedicure the next day, and her friend dropped her back home around 6 p.m.
After Heidi Firkus graduated from Roseville Area High School in 2003, she started dating Nicholas.
Gibbs recalls her friend telling her, “I think he’s the one.”
“She was always one who seemed to know what she wanted, and she was very certain about her decisions,” said Gibbs, who attended the University of Northwestern in Roseville with Heidi.
Nicholas and Heidi Firkus met at Calvary Church in Roseville, which Heidi attended regularly with her family while growing up. They served as church youth group leaders and were married at the church in 2005.
At her funeral at Calvary, Nicholas Firkus said, “The best way that I can describe my grief right now is to call it homesickness,” according to the eulogy he posted on Facebook. “Ever since Heidi and I were married, I realized there were days when I was at work where I just felt homesick. Not for my house . . . but to be where Heidi was.”
Heidi Firkus’ friends Bain, Starr and Gibbs said they didn’t know Nicholas Firkus well — their friendship was primarily with Heidi.
The Firkuses, meanwhile, had a close group of other married couples they often spent time with. Several of them didn’t return messages from the Pioneer Press.
Heidi Firkus remained devoted to her longtime friends.
When Starr and Bain, who went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, came home for breaks, Firkus was the organizing force in getting them all together with other friends.
Around Christmas each year, she threw a “fondue-ya” party, which Bain thinks was a play on the word “booya.”
She could be goofy, and she loved spending time outdoors and watching romantic comedies. She also lived her life with purpose, her friends said.
“I think her relationships were so close because she made a point to talk about real things,” Starr said. “There was not a surface relationship for her in any place in her life.”
In their last conversation, Firkus called Starr to tell her how much she liked her wedding invitation. The day after Heidi was killed, Starr received her RSVP in the mail.
Starr was married in June 2010 and says that not having Firkus there was devastating; it was the same for Bain at her wedding at the end of 2010.
Looking at Heidi Firkus’ death certificate is painful for her father, but he reads the words aloud: “Cause of death: Shotgun wound to the back. Manner of death: Homicide.”
“She was such a gentle person, and reading how she died is very sobering,” John Erickson said.
St. Paul police Sgt. Jake Peterson, the homicide investigator on the case since 2012, said he believes “one or more people out there know exactly what happened.”
“In our world, that means somebody having a change of heart or a change of conscience and wanting to come forward to talk about the truth of what really happened that day,” Peterson said recently.
Police have gone back to talk with people who were originally interviewed in 2010, to see whether they can provide any additional details.
They have not talked with Nicholas Firkus again, but Peterson said police still want to “if he’s willing to do so.”
Friends and community members have been praying for the Ericksons. Heidi’s parents say they’re grateful.
“We know we can’t have her back, but we would really like to see justice done,” Linda Erickson said. “We think she deserves that.”
Heidi — who had two brothers — doted on her nephews, and was thrilled when a niece was born in February 2010.
In November, Jolene Erickson, who is married to Heidi’s brother Peter, asked her sons a question: If they could go back to live in any time period, what would it be? She mentioned castles and times from the Bible.
Without hesitation, her 6-year-old son — who never got to meet Heidi Firkus — said, “The time that Heidi was alive.”
“Our boys sure love you even though your time was too short,” Jolene Erickson wrote to Heidi on a remembrance Facebook page. “Never forget.”
Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, http://www.twincities.com