Monday 26 September 2016

Man held over murder of two nuns who spent lives helping poor

Emily Wagster Pettus

Published 28/08/2016 | 02:30

Rodney Earl Sanders, charged with two counts of capital murder in connection with the killing of two nuns, is seen in an undated picture released by the Mississippi Department of Public Safety. Photo: Mississippi Department of Public Safety/Handout via Reuters
Rodney Earl Sanders, charged with two counts of capital murder in connection with the killing of two nuns, is seen in an undated picture released by the Mississippi Department of Public Safety. Photo: Mississippi Department of Public Safety/Handout via Reuters

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 last Thursday after they failed to arrive for work at a clinic in Lexington, Mississippi, about 15km from Durant, where they lived.

Lt Colonel Jimmy Jordan said: "Sanders was a person of interest early on in the investigation." He is being held in an undisclosed detention centre awaiting an initial court appearance.

In the poverty-stricken area where the 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 continues, 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.

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 close to 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 and helped build the clinic, said it provided about 25pc 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."

Sunday Independent

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