JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Two nuns who worked as nurses to help the poor in rural Mississippi were found slain in their home, and there were signs of a break-in and their car was missing, officials said Thursday.
It was too early to say how the nuns died, but it doesn’t appear that they were shot, Durant Assistant Police Chief James Lee said.
The nuns were identified Sister Margaret Held and Sister Paula Merrill, Holmes County Coroner Dexter Howard said. Their bodies were taken to a state crime lab for autopsies.
The women, both nurse practitioners, were found when didn’t report to work at a nearby hospital, authorities said.
Maureen Smith, a spokeswoman for the Catholic Diocese of Jackson, said there were signs of a break-in and the nuns’ vehicle is missing. She said the sisters worked at the Lexington Medical Clinic, about 10 miles away from their home in Durant, which is in one of the poorest counties in the state.
Authorities didn’t release a motive and it wasn’t clear if the nuns’ religious work had anything to do with the slayings.
“I have an awful feeling in the pit of my stomach,” said Lee, the assistant police chief, who is Catholic.
Held is a member of the School Sisters of St. Francis in Milwaukee. Merrill nun is a member of the Sisters of Charity in Nazareth, Kentucky.
Merrill moved to Mississippi from Massachusetts in 1981 and believed she needed to stay in the Deep South to help, according to a 2010 article in The Journey, a publication of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth.
When asked about her ministry, Merrill was humble, according to the article.
“We simply do what we can wherever God places us,” she said.
According to the article, Merrill and Held rotated one week at a time at the Lexington Medical Clinic and the Durant Primary Care Clinic.
At the clinic, Merrill saw children and adults, and helped them in other ways.
“We do more social work than medicine sometimes,” she said. “Sometimes patients are looking for a counselor.”
Video provided by NBC / WBLT-TV