2 nuns beaten in West End home invasion

2013-08-14T17:30:00Z 2015-01-29T11:44:04Z 2 nuns beaten in West End home invasionBy CINDY UKEN And ZACH BENOIT cuken@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

9:30 a.m.: Sister Mary Vincentia Maronick, 90, and Sister Clara Scherr, 79, are in "good spirits and healing" at St. Vincent Healthcare after they were assaulted during a home invasion and robbery early Wednesday.

Scherr remains in ICU but could be tranferred out of the unit later today, said Therese Horvat, communications director for the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth.

8:30 a.m.: The Billings Police Department continues to investigate a pair of home invasion robberies from Tuesday and Wednesday, one of which sent a pair of elderly nuns to the hospital after the robbers attacked them.

Police said Thursday morning they have identified and spoken with a person of interest in one of the attacks.

On Wednesday, police released photos of several people taken from surveillance video. And those photos generated "quite a few" tips, Lt. Kevin Iffland said Thursday.

"We were able to identify the man in some of those photos," Iffland said.

The first robbery happened just after midnight Tuesday when a 76-year-old woman awoke to find a man in the living room of her home on 11th Street West. The man threw the woman to the ground and took items from her home, including credit cards.

The second robbery happened early Wednesday morning when two men forced their way into a home on Gregory Drive South and assaulted Sisters Mary Vincentia Maronick, 90, and Clara Scherr, 79, both nuns with the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth.

While police haven't found a direct link between the two incidents, they haven't ruled out a connection.

"They’re very similar," Iffland said. "Elderly females, both homes broken into. But they are two separate investigations."

On Wednesday evening, police released photographs of several persons of interest after a credit card from the first robbery was used.

While police have identified and contacted the man, no arrests had been made as of 8 a.m. and police continue to investigate.

"It's still very early on that stage," Iffland said. "We’re still looking into both of these incidents."

Anyone with information on the robberies is asked to call Crimestoppers at 245-6660.

As one of two men beat an elderly nun with a stool in the pre-dawn hours Wednesday, his accomplice yelled at the nun’s roommate, another nun, “What’s the code? What's the code?"

As one assailant pummeled the nun, the other ransacked the West End home the women shared, rifling through her purse. He apparently wanted the PIN number, “the code” to a credit card he had taken from her purse.

She finally blurted out a four-digit number, which seemed to appease the pair, and they fled.

Both of the nuns, part of the order of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, are hearing-impaired; neither was wearing her hearing aid at the time of the assault.

That is how Sister Mary Vincentia Maronick recounted the 2:45 a.m. assault to her longtime next-door neighbor, Tavell Peete, before being taken to St. Vincent Healthcare, one of many hospitals run by the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth.

Peete was awakened by the red lights of emergency vehicles flashing in her bedroom windows and dashed out to see what was wrong.

“We’re all very protective of each other,” Peete said of the affluent neighborhood that was rocked by the home invasion.

Peete has lived next door to the house, which is owned by the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, for at least 10 years. Over the years, different sisters have lived in the home.

The current occupants have lived there for at least three years, according to neighbors.

When Maronick, 90, first realized what was happening, she tried to make her way into a second bedroom where her roommate, Sister Clara Scherr, 79, was sleeping, said Peete, who identified her neighbors.

As Maronick tried to navigate the home and get her bearings, she said, one of the men attacked her in the hallway.

When Peete arrived, Maronick was lying in that hallway, complaining about her arm. Scherr was being attended to by medical personnel.

Peete visited both women Wednesday and said “they are doing well."

The men broke into the home on Gregory Drive South and beat the women before robbing the home. Both women were taken to the hospital with injuries including cuts, bruises and broken or separated bones, according to police Lt. Kevin Iffland. They were not sexually assaulted.

The men stole items from the home but police did not provide descriptions of the items, citing the ongoing investigation. Neighbors said a TV and a credit card were among the stolen items.

“They are simply wonderful, older, lovely ladies,” Peete said. “They wouldn’t hurt anyone. They are the ones who are out there helping people. They’re just sweet little nuns.”

Peete, owner of Division Mortgage Group, said she was frightened — and angry.

“I was in shock someone would want to hurt them,” Peete said.

She rushed to the home of Lynne Roccisano, her friend across the street, to alert her to the invasion and assault.

Roccisano, who has lived across the street for three years, was both heartbroken and frightened. She immediately posted a warning to the neighborhood on her Facebook page.

In the past month, Roccisano's three daughters have been helping the women and have developed a special bond.

She, too, had visited the women mid-morning Wednesday at the hospital.

"You don't beat an old lady," Roccisano said, adding that she is taking immediate action to bolster security on her own home and garage. “Sister Clara is rolling with it. She’s fiery.”

No other information or description of the assailants was available Wednesday evening. 

A second home invasion robbery, of a 76-year-old woman’s home, took place shortly after midnight Tuesday, the Billings Police Department said Wednesday evening. The home is in the 100 block of 11th Street West.

St. Vincent Healthcare declined to comment, referring all questions to the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth in Kansas.

Bishop Michael Warfel of the Great Falls-Billings Diocese spoke on behalf of an emotionally distraught Catholic community.

"I certainly hope that whoever the perpetrators are are caught and brought to justice," Warfel said. "I think this is a very vile crime. My hope and prayers is that they will soon recover from their injuries, both in terms of their physical injuries and any emotional ones they may have."

In an emailed statement, Sister Maureen Hall, community director with the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, said "We are saddened by events that occurred early this morning in Billings that resulted in injuries to two of our Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth.

"Fortunately, the sisters are recovering from the injuries they sustained. We are grateful to the physicians, clinicians and staff at St. Vincent Healthcare and to the Billings community for the outpouring of expressions of concern and support. We ask for continued prayers for our two sisters and for the individuals who broke into their home."

Anyone with information on the robbery or the attackers is asked to call the Billings Police Department at 657-8460.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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