The reward for information leading to the arrest of the person or people who killed two nuns in rural Mississippi was raised to $22,500 Friday as investigators comb through evidence in hopes of finding a motive for the killings.
Sister Margaret Held and Sister Paula Merrill, both 68 and nurse practitioners, were found dead Thursday morning in their home in Durant Thursday morning after they didn't show up for work at the Lexington Medical Clinic, where they cared for people who couldn't afford medical care.
A car that was missing from the home was found later Thursday and was at a crime lab being inspected for any evidence, Durant Assistant Police Chief James Lee said. The was found behind a grocery store about a mile away from where the nuns lived, according to NBC affiliate WLBT.
"These were the two sweetest sisters you could imagine. It’s so senseless," Rev. Greg Plata, who oversees the small church the nuns attended, said.
A cause of death has not been released, but Plata said police told him the sisters were stabbed. Autopsies were conducted Friday morning, Mississippi Bureau of Investigation spokesman Warren Strain said.
The Mississippi Department of Public Safety increased the reward for information leading to a suspect or suspects to $20,000 and Holmes County Crime Stoppers put up $2,500 for information leading to an arrest, according to the Durant Police Department.
Sleepy Holmes County, with a population of about 18,000, is in shock over the murders of the nuns, who many have described as giving and selfless.
"They were our family," said Jamie Sample, who attended church with Held and Merrill. "They were totally giving of themselves to others."
Sample said the nuns would attend to people who no other healthcare providers would serve, and she worried who would fill that void in the county.
Lee, the assistant police chief, said the murders of the nuns were "the worst thing that can happen to us since (Hurricane) Katrina."
"My heart is broken for the two families and friends of these treasured souls," said Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant. "We will not rest until we find the murderer and bring them to justice."