Monday 5 December 2016

Man arrested over gruesome slaying of two 'dedicated, remarkable' nuns in their home

Published 27/08/2016 | 10:02

This 2015 photo provided by the School Sisters of St. Francis shows Sister Margaret Held. Sister Paula Merrill and Held, two nuns who worked as nurses and helped the poor in rural Mississippi, were found slain in their home and there were signs of a break-in and their vehicle was missing, officials said Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016. (Michael O'Loughlin/School Sisters of St. Francis via AP)
This 2015 photo provided by the School Sisters of St. Francis shows Sister Margaret Held. Sister Paula Merrill and Held, two nuns who worked as nurses and helped the poor in rural Mississippi, were found slain in their home and there were signs of a break-in and their vehicle was missing, officials said Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016. (Michael O'Loughlin/School Sisters of St. Francis via AP)
This undated photo provided by Sisters of Charity of Nazareth shows Sister Paula Merrill. Sister Margaret Held and Merrill, two nuns who worked as nurses and helped the poor in rural Mississippi, were found slain in their home and there were signs of a break-in and their vehicle was missing, officials said Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016. (Sisters of Charity of Nazareth via AP)
Two Mississippi Bureau of Investigation agents inspect a car in the garage of the Durant, Miss., home of two slain Catholic nuns who worked as nurses at the Lexington Medical Clinic, Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016. The clinic office manager and a Durant police officer discovered their bodies inside the house after both nuns did not report for work. Authorities said their were signs of a break-in and their vehicle was missing. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Police crime scene tape surrounds the residence of two Catholic nuns who worked as nurses and helped the poor in rural Mississippi, and were found slain in their Durant, Miss., home Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016. Authorities said there were signs of a break-in and their vehicle was missing. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Durant Police Chief John Haynes, left, and assistant Police Chief James Lee reassure Lexington Medical Clinic employees Lisa Dew, right, and Viola Turner, seated, that the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation was giving the home of two slain Catholic nuns who worked as nurses at the clinic a through crime scene investigation, Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016, in Durant. The clinic office manager and a Durant police officer discovered their bodies inside the house after both nuns did not report for work. Authorities said there were signs of a break-in and their vehicle was missing. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Jonell Payton, right, comforts Lisa Dew, outside the Durant, Miss., home of two slain Catholic nuns, Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016. The nuns worked as nurses at the Lexington Medical Clinic, where Dew was the office manager. Dew and a Durant police officer discovered their bodies inside the house after both nuns did not report for work. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Police in Mississippi have arrested and charged a 46-year-old man over the killing of two nuns.

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Mississippi Department of Public Safety spokesman Warren Strain said Rodney Sanders, of Kosciusko, had been charged with two counts of capital murder.

The bodies of Sister Margaret Held and Sister Paula Merrill, both 68, were discovered at home on Thursday after they failed to arrive for work at a clinic in Lexington, Mississippi, about 10 miles from Durant, where they lived.

Lt Colonel Jimmy Jordan said: "Sanders was developed as a person of interest early on in the investigation."

He is being held in an undisclosed detention centre awaiting an initial court appearance.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Diocese of Jackson said a wake for the nuns would be held on Sunday at St. Thomas Church in Lexington, with a memorial mass on Monday at the Cathedral of Saint Peter the Apostle in Jackson.

Jonell Payton, right, comforts Lisa Dew, outside the Durant, Miss., home of two slain Catholic nuns, Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016. The nuns worked as nurses at the Lexington Medical Clinic, where Dew was the office manager. Dew and a Durant police officer discovered their bodies inside the house after both nuns did not report for work. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Jonell Payton, right, comforts Lisa Dew, outside the Durant, Miss., home of two slain Catholic nuns, Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016. The nuns worked as nurses at the Lexington Medical Clinic, where Dew was the office manager. Dew and a Durant police officer discovered their bodies inside the house after both nuns did not report for work. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Diocesan chancellor Mary Woodward said the memorial service would be "an opportunity for the diocesan community and friends to celebrate the lives of these two remarkable women".

In the poverty-stricken area where the two nuns were killed, forgiveness for their killer is hard to find, even if forgiveness is what the victims would have wanted.

The nuns were nurse practitioners who dedicated their lives to providing healthcare to people in the poorest county in the state. And as the investigation into their deaths continues, many residents wondered how they will fill the hole the killings have left.

"Right now, I don't see no forgiveness on my heart," said Joe Morgan Jr, a 58-year-old former factory worker who has diabetes and was a patient of Sister Merrill's at the clinic where the two nuns worked.

Durant Police Chief John Haynes, left, and assistant Police Chief James Lee reassure Lexington Medical Clinic employees Lisa Dew, right, and Viola Turner, seated, that the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation was giving the home of two slain Catholic nuns who worked as nurses at the clinic a through crime scene investigation, Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016, in Durant. The clinic office manager and a Durant police officer discovered their bodies inside the house after both nuns did not report for work. Authorities said there were signs of a break-in and their vehicle was missing. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Durant Police Chief John Haynes, left, and assistant Police Chief James Lee reassure Lexington Medical Clinic employees Lisa Dew, right, and Viola Turner, seated, that the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation was giving the home of two slain Catholic nuns who worked as nurses at the clinic a through crime scene investigation, Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016, in Durant. The clinic office manager and a Durant police officer discovered their bodies inside the house after both nuns did not report for work. Authorities said there were signs of a break-in and their vehicle was missing. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

He said Sister Merrill would want him to forgive whoever killed the women, but he hopes the perpetrator is arrested, convicted and executed.

"She doesn't deserve to die like this, doing God's work," Mr Morgan said, shaking his head. "There's something wrong with the world."

Their stolen car was found abandoned a mile from their home, and there were signs of a break-in, but police have not disclosed a motive.

Authorities have not said how the women were killed, but the Rev Greg Plata of St Thomas Catholic Church, where the nuns had led Bible study for years, said police told him they were stabbed.

Mr Plata said both nuns' religious communities have asked that people pray for the killer or killers. Asked about people's struggles to forgive, the priest said: "Forgiveness is at the heart of being a Christian. Look at Jesus on the cross: 'Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.'"

The killings did more than shock people and plunge the county into mourning. They leave a gaping hole in what was already a strapped healthcare system.

Dr Elias Abboud, who worked with the sisters for years and helped build the clinic, said it provided about 25% of all medical care in the county.

The two nuns cultivated relationships with drug company representatives, who often left extra free samples, according to clinic manager Lisa Dew.

"This is a poor area, and they dignified those who are poor with outreach and respect for them," Mr Plata added. "They treated each person as a child of God."

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