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Two Nuns Slain, Two Wounded by Attacker Using Statue, Knife

January 29, 1996

WATERVILLE, Maine (AP) _ ``Pray for us,″ read the hand-lettered sign taped to the front of the chapel.

Residents felt helpless to do much more as they struggled to comprehend why four nuns were beaten and stabbed in their convent. Two died and two remained hospitalized.

``The word that keeps coming to mind is massacre,″ Mayor Ruth Joseph said Sunday. ``The holy, religious, beautiful sisters who caused no one any harm were violated in the worst sense of the word.″

Nuns of the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament had just finished a prayer service Saturday evening when an intruder smashed the glass on a locked door, opened it and walked inside.

When police arrived inside the convent’s chapel, the man was beating one of the nuns with a religious figurine and officers had to pull him off of her. He also beat and stabbed three others in an adjacent part of the convent. Besides the statue, he used a knife and one of the nun’s canes, said Stephen McCausland of the state Public Safety Department.

Mother Superior Edna Mary Cardozo, 68, died late Saturday at Kennebec Valley Medical Center in Augusta, and Sister Mary Julien Fortin, 67, died early Sunday, a hospital spokeswoman said.

An autopsy by the state’s deputy chief medical examiner determined that the women died from ``multiple blunt force injuries of the head.″ A third nun, Sister Patricia Keane, 68, was in good condition early today at an area hospital and the fourth, Sister Mary Anna DiGiacomo, 72, was in serious condition.

Mark A. Bechard, 37, a local man who had occasionally worshiped at the convent, was taken away with blood still staining his white T-shirt. He was charged with murder and jailed without bail pending an arraignment either today or Tuesday.

Police had no motive for the attacks, but Bechard had a history of mental problems and had previous run-ins with the law. He was involuntarily committed to a mental hospital in 1994, said Police Chief John Morris.

The New York Times reported today that authorities were trying to determine whether Bechard had been released from the hospital as the result of a class-action lawsuit on behalf of patients at the Augusta Mental Health Institute, one of two state-operated mental hospitals in Maine.

The convent is in a neighborhood of stately old homes, duplexes and professional offices that is considered among the safest in Waterville, a city of about 17,000 people about 97 miles northeast of Portland.

At St. Francis deSales Catholic Church down the street, parishioners were numb.

``They’re stunned and asking how can a thing like that happen in a place like this?″ said the Rev. Claude Gendreau.

Bishop Joseph Gerry, leader of Maine’s Roman Catholics, urged the people of the state to pray for the victims, their families and even Bechard.

``May Mark not give in to anger or hatred, discouragement or fear. But may his wounds also be quickly healed,″ Gerry said.

Servants of the Blessed Sacrament are an international order. Their only other convent in the United States is in Pueblo, Colo.

The yellow brick chapel in this central Maine city is open daily to the public for worship, and nuns take turns keeping vigil near the altar.

The chapel is next to the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, where state and municipal police officers are trained. No one was at the academy at the time of the attack.

Five nuns who were not injured in the attack Saturday night were in seclusion and did not answer calls Sunday. A handwritten sign on the chapel door said: ``Chapel closed except for Mass. Pray for us.″

Claude Hallee, who lives with his family a few hundred feet away from the convent, said the most serious crime in the neighborhood previously has been vandalism and juvenile crime.

Hallee said he was in ``total shock _ to think that somebody would attack defenseless nuns.″

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