A man with a history of mental illness was being held in the deaths of two elderly nuns after police said he broke into a small convent in Waterville, Maine, on Saturday evening.
Two other nuns were also seriously injured in what police described as one of the worst crimes in the history of the state.
The man, Mark Bechard, 37, used a knife, a religious statue and one of the nuns’ canes to stab and beat the women inside their chapel and convent at the Order of the Blessed Sacrament, according to Stephen McCausland, a spokesman for the Maine State Police.
The two women who were killed, Mother Superior Edna Mary Cardozo, 68, and Sister Marie Julien Fortin, 67, were the leaders of the convent. The two survivors, Sister Patricia Keane, 68, and Sister Mary Anna Digiacomo, 72, were both still hospitalized on Sunday night. Sister Keane was listed in stable condition, Sister Digiacomo in serious condition.
McCausland said the police had determined no motive for the attack. But Bechard, who suffered from manic depression, had been picked up by the police at least once before and hospitalized when he failed to take his medication, local officials said.
The officials also said Bechard had been part of a protracted class action suit brought on behalf of patients at the Augusta Mental Health Institute, one of two state-operated mental hospitals in Maine, that resulted in a number of patients there being released in the past few years. The officials said they were still trying to learn whether Bechard had actually been released as a result of the suit or had been forced to remain at home in Waterville because the state hospital could not readmit him.
“This just doesn’t happen here,” said Paul Jacques, a Democratic state representative in Waterville. “In Washington or New York, maybe. But not here.
“They were just little old nuns who never hurt anyone,” Jacques said. “They were a place to go when you needed solitude, and they always said they would say a prayer for us.”
There were only nine nuns in the convent, part of a small, reclusive order, residents said. Many of the women in the order became nuns after having become widows, residents said. They said the nuns were very poor, dependent on townspeople for donations.
The Elks Club brought over extra food after banquets, local contractors repaired their buildings for free and women made woolen hats or mittens for the nuns to sell at their annual summer crafts fair.
Bechard has refused to talk since his arrest. He was being held in the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Jail in Augusta. Arraignment is expected to be held today or Tuesday, officials said.