Authorities in the small city of Durant, Mississippi, have launched an intense manhunt after two Catholic nuns were found slain in their home on Thursday. Sister Margaret M. Held and Sister Paula J. Merrill were beloved in the community, which is reeling in the wake of the grisly and rare violent crime. The city which has a population of about 3,000 hasn’t seen a murder in years, according to The New York Times.
In addition to being nuns, Held and Merrill were trained nurses and worked at a medical clinic in a neighboring town where they administered health care to the poor. Their legacy of altruism stretches back almost 30 years in the area. Following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, they opened up their home to victims who were displaced by the flooding.
Police reportedly said they made the grisly discovery Thursday morning when they conducted a wellness check after the pair failed to show up for work. There were signs of a break-in and one of their cars, a Blue Toyota Corolla, was missing. Investigators reportedly found the car later, abandoned not far away. Father Greg Plata, a priest at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Lexington where Held and Merrill practiced their ministry, said the two women were the only people who lived in the house and that they typically did not wear traditional clothes worn by nuns. Instead they wore scrubs or civilian clothes to their nursing jobs. Police have yet to identify a motive and haven’t said whether the killings could have been related to their work.
The crime has left the community shaken and on edge, and those who knew Held and Merrill heartbroken. “I just cannot tell you what precious people they were,” Jamie Sample, 58, the music minister at St. Thomas the Apostle Church, said. “They were just the sweetest people to ever draw a breath into their bodies.” Watch more about the crime and their lives devoted to helping others in the video below.
Read the full story at The New York Times.