Rodney Sanders had reportedly been staying in a shed near the Durant, Mississippi, home of Margaret Held and Paula Merrill before they were killed

By Adam Carlson
Updated August 31, 2016 03:25 PM
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Credit: Mississippi Department of Public Safety

The man accused of slaying two beloved nuns in rural Mississippi last week was reportedly staying right across the street from the home where they were killed.

Rodney Sanders, 46, had been living in a small metal shed, in Durant, Mississippi, across from Margaret Held and Paula Merrill, according to the Clarion-Ledger.

The women, both 68, were found stabbed in their homes Thursday.

Sanders had offered to mow their lawn just days before their death, according to the Clarion-Ledger, though they declined. It’s unclear if that was their only interaction, why Sanders was staying in the nearby shed or for how long he’d been there, according to the paper.

Sanders’ relatives stayed in the home on the shed’s property, according to the paper, though the Associated Press reported Sanders had been living about 15 miles away from the nuns’ home, in Kosciusko, where his wife, Marie, reportedly still lives.

His wife appeared in court Monday, during Sanders’ initial appearance, and sobbed afterward as she spoke to the victims’ friends and family, Merrill’s nephew David Merrill tells PEOPLE.

“I’m sorry. I don’t know what to say to y’all,” Sanders’ wife said, according to the AP. “I’m so sorry. … I’m so sorry. I can’t take this. Oh, my God.”

At one point in court, Susan Gatz, president of Merrill’s religious congregation, went and hugged her, David says.

Of seeing Sanders in court that day himself, David tells PEOPLE, “I didn’t feel any hatred, I didn’t feel any vengeance. It was just a very numb feeling.”

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Sanders was denied bond at his Monday hearing and remains held in an undisclosed detention center on two counts of capital murder, court officials tell PEOPLE.

He will be assigned a public defender, according to the AP, though it was not immediately clear if he had been assigned one already, according to court officials. He has not entered a plea.

Held and Paula were nurse practitioners who worked at the nearby Lexington Medical Clinic, though a physician there has said Sanders was not a patient. The two, longtime friends and nuns, have been remembered as “extraordinary” and “humble” women who spent years in rural communities tending to the poor.

“What made them superb is they loved the people they served,” Gatz told PEOPLE.

Suspect Had Spent Time Behind Bars

Sanders has a long criminal history, according to the Clarion-Ledger, including prison time for second-degree robbery and theft. He was previously convicted of armed robbery in Holmes County, Mississippi, according to the paper.

At the time of the killings, Sanders was on probation following a 2015 sentencing and prison time for a felony DUI, a Mississippi Department of Corrections spokeswoman tells PEOPLE.

Police have not announced a motive in the death, though they have said robbery was among the potential motives they were investigating.

Sanders could face the death penalty if convicted on his charges. In a joint statement, the religious congregations for Held and Paula reiterated their commitment to abolishing the death penalty, “even as we seek justice and truth.”

“Let us hold everyone involved in prayer,” the statement said.