On August 25, in the small town of Durant, Mississippi, two nuns were found murdered in their home.
Sister Margaret M. Held and Sister Paula J. Merrill, both 68, worked 20 miles away at the Lexington Medical Clinic, reports The New York Times.
They were stabbed to death, according to what police told the Rev. Greg Plata, the priest at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Lexington. “They were two of the sweetest, most gentle women you can imagine. Their vocation was helping the poor,” he said.
The nuns were nurse practitioners who provided medical care for children and adults at the Lexington Medical Clinic, the Daily Mail reports.
Authorities said it was not clear whether the women's religious work had anything to do with their death.
The crime brings to mind the infamous December 1980 rape and killings of four American nuns in El Salvador, by members of that country’s National Guard. In that case, their religious work did in fact have something to do with their deaths, because they were helping the poor, which was considered subversive by El Salvador’s military dictatorship at the time, as recalled by the Daily Beast.
The bodies of the Mississippi nuns have been taken to a state crime lab for autopsies. According to Police Chief John Haynes, police officers have been canvassing the area, searching for clues.
Held had been a member of the School Sisters of St. Francis in Milwaukee for 49 years, noted a statement from the order. Merrill had worked in Mississippi for more than 30 years, according to the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in Kentucky.
The clinic where they worked provided about 25 percent of all the medical care in the county, notes the Daily Mail, and the two victims provided almost all the care there.
“I think their absence is going to be felt for a long, long time,” lamented clinic manager Lisa Dew. “There's a lot of people here who depended on them for their care and their medicines. It's going to be rough.”
Dr. Elias Abboud, who founded the Lexington Medical Clinic and worked with the sisters for years, said said the future of the facility in uncertain in light of their deaths.