Rodney Sanders was arrested and charged as a community mourns the loss of these two women

By Blake Bakkila
Updated August 27, 2016 11:40 AM
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Credit: Mississippi Department of Public Safety

A man has been charged for the alleged murder of two Mississippi nuns, according to a press release from the state department of public safety.

Rodney Sanders was charged with two counts of capital murder in connection with the deaths of two nuns in Durant, Mississippi, according to the release.

“Sanders was developed as a person of interest early on in the investigation,” Mississippi Bureau of Investigation Director Lt. Colonel Jimmy Jordan said in the release. “With the cooperation of the Durant and Kosciusko Police Departments, Holmes County Sheriff’s Department and the Attorney General Office this heinous crime has been resolved.”

Police said Margaret Held and Paula Merrill, both 68-year-old nurse practitioners, were found dead Thursday in their home in Durant, Mississippi, after failing to show up for work at the Lexington Medical Clinic, according to NBC News. The pair had worked for years at the clinic, treating the poor and others in a tight-knit rural community left stunned by their deaths. Town residents were seen weeping outside the home as news of the deaths spread. The Associated Press also reported that the nuns’ stolen car was found abandoned a mile from their shared home.

The county coroner later confirmed to CNN that Held and Merill were stabbed to death.

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As the community continues to mourn, the School Sisters of St. Francis have shared several posts remembering the lives of Held and Merrill. In one post, the group shared a photo taken of the two nuns, and said, “Our communities are praying together, grieving together, and sharing many loving memories of these remarkable women and the thousands of lives they have touched through their healing ministries.”

Before Sanders was charged, Maureen Smith, a spokeswoman for the Catholic Diocese of Jackson confirmed the deaths to PEOPLE.

“At this point we’re just trying to wrap our heads around them being gone,” Smith said.

Sanders is currently being held in an “undisclosed detention center” while he waits for his initial court appearance, according to the release. It is not clear if he has retained an attorney or if he has entered a plea.