The Latest: Police say car of slain nuns recovered nearby

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Posted: Aug 25, 2016 9:53 PM
The Latest: Police say car of slain nuns recovered nearby

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The Latest on the slayings of two Catholic nuns in Mississippi (all times local):

8:45 p.m.

Authorities say they've found a car missing from the home of the two nuns killed in Mississippi.

Warren Strain, spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Public Safety, says the blue Toyota Corolla was found abandoned on a secluded street barely a mile from where Sister Margaret Held and Sister Paula Merrill were found dead Thursday.

Strain says police found the car, apparently undamaged, about 6:45 p.m. Thursday. Strain says the car is being towed to a state crime lab near Jackson for analysis. He says police haven't determined when the vehicle was abandoned.

Police say the nuns were found dead Thursday morning in the community of Durant after failing to show up at a medical clinic in the region where they serve as nurse practitioners.

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745 p.m.

The School Sisters of St. Francis say they are "deeply shocked and grieved" by the killings of a Catholic nun from Wisconsin and another nun in Mississippi.

In a statement from their U.S. Province Leadership Team, the Milwaukee order says Sister Margaret Held had been a member of the School Sisters of St. Francis for 49 years "and lived her ministry caring for and healing the poor."

Held, who was 68, and Sister Paula Merrill were found slain in their home Thursday. The two nuns, both nurse practitioners, helped the poor in a rural area of Mississippi.

Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki says whoever killed Held "robbed not only the School Sisters of St. Francis, but also the entire Church of a woman whose life was spent in service."

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5:45 p.m.

Patricia Wyatt-Weatherly, a next-door neighbor to the nuns, said she was at a doctor's appointment in the Mississippi capital of Jackson when she got word of the killings.

At one time, she said, the nuns were her primary medical providers. Both nuns were nurse practitioners who lived in her quiet, rural community of Durant while helping provide medical care in the poor region.

The nuns were identified by authorities as Sister Margaret Held and Sister Paula Merrill.

"They were excellent," Wyatt-Weatherly said. "I loved the way Paula took time and explained your symptoms and all that," adding she never felt rushed as with other medical care providers.

Durant in general and their street in particular are very quiet, she said.

After 2005's Hurricane Katrina, when much of the town was without power for weeks, the sisters allowed people over to their house to cook because they had a gas stove when most had electric stoves. She added Held was an excellent baker whose goodies "would melt in your mouth."

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5:15 p.m.

Dr. Elias Abboud said the two nuns found slain in rural Mississippi had a "passion" for their service to the poor, working among them as nurse practitioners.

Abboud said at one point he was thinking of leaving the country after a clinic in the region had closed. But after talking with the sisters, he agreed to build a clinic in Lexington and the two agreed they would work with him.

"They loved this area. You could feel their passion about serving the people, helping the poor. They loved it," Abboud said.

Abboud said he later began working for a hospital in Jackson, which left the two nuns to provide almost all the medical care at the clinic, adding they were always ready to go the "extra mile."

"I can't imagine anybody they had a problem with," Abboud said. "They were really loved by everybody."

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4:25 p.m.

The Catholic Diocese of Jackson says it's "terribly saddened" by the slayings of two sisters found dead at their Mississippi home.

A statement by the diocese says the two nuns, Sister Margaret Held and Sister Paula Merrill, were found dead at the home in Durant after they failed to show up for work as nurse practitioners at a medical clinic in nearby Lexington where they help the rural poor.

The head of the diocese, Bishop Joseph Kopacz, says the sisters had spent "years of dedicated service" in the state.

"They absolutely loved the people in their community," he added. "We mourn with the people of Lexington and Durant and we pray for the Sisters of Charity, the School Sisters of St. Francis and the families left behind."

Church officials have said Held was a member of the School Sisters of St. Francis based in Milwaukee while Merrill was a member of the Sisters of Charity based in Nazareth, Kentucky.

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4:05 p.m.

Authorities say it's too early to say how two Catholic nuns were killed in rural Mississippi.

Police say the bodies of the nuns, who had worked as nurse practitioners helping the poor, were found in their home in the Delta town of Durant.

Maureen Smith, a spokeswoman for the Catholic Diocese of Jackson, said there were signs of a break-in at the nuns' home and their vehicle is missing.

Durant Assistant Police Chief James Lee says it doesn't appear the two were shot.

Authorities didn't immediately release a motive and it wasn't clear if the nuns' religious work had anything to do with the slayings.

Holmes County Coroner Dexter Howard identified the nuns as Sister Margaret Held and Sister Paula Merrill. Their bodies were taken to a state crime lab for autopsies.

The sisters worked at a medical clinic about 10 miles from their home in Durant, according to Smith. Held was a member of the School Sisters of St. Francis in Milwaukee.

The Rev. Greg Plata, the pastor who oversees the church the sisters attended, said Merrill was a member of the Sisters of Charity in Nazareth, Kentucky.

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2:35 p.m.

Authorities say two Catholic nuns have been found slain in a Mississippi home where they lived.

Durant Assistant Police Chief James Lee said Thursday that an officer found them when they didn't report to work as normal.

Mississippi Department of Public Safety spokesman Warren Strain says it appears the nuns were homicide victims. He didn't release a motive and it wasn't clear if their religious work had anything to do with the slayings.

The assistant police chief says it's too early to say how the nuns died, but it appears they were not shot. Lee says both nuns are nurse practitioners.

One is a member of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in Kentucky. The other is part of the School Sisters of St. Francis in Milwaukee.