Sisters Margaret Held and Paula Merrill were nurse practitioners who dedicated their lives to providing health care to people in the poorest county in the state of Mississippi.
The women, both 68, were found dead at their home Thursday morning after they failed to show up for work at the clinic, where they gave flu shots, dispensed insulin and provided other medical care for children and adults who couldn’t afford it.
Their stolen car was found abandoned a mile from their home, and there were signs of a break-in, but police haven’t disclosed a motive or any leads, and no arrests have been made.
Authorities have not said how the women were killed, but the Rev. Greg Plata of St. Thomas Catholic Church in Lexington, where the nuns had led Bible study for years, said police told him they were stabbed.
The priest said both nuns’ religious communities have asked that people pray for the killer or killers. Asked about people’s struggles to forgive, Plata 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.’”
On Friday, a handwritten sign on the front door of Lexington Medical Clinic said it was closed until Monday.
The clinic and the nuns’ home in Durant are in Holmes County, population 18,000. With 44 percent of its residents living in poverty, Holmes is the seventh-poorest county in America, according to the Census Bureau.
The slayings did more than shock people and plunge the county into mourning. They leave a gaping hole in what was already a strapped health care system.