As the Cork nun's suspected murderer was being questioned, law enforcement officers in at least three states, along with the FBI, were attempting to piece together the last terrible days of her life, after she was kidnapped by Adrian O'Neill Robinson as she returned with a colleague from Mass last Sunday.
"Sister Philomena dedicated her life to helping people. I knew her personally and I guarantee that up to the minute she took her last breath, she was praying for him," said Chief Dan Colberg, of the Hamilton, Georgia, Police Department yesterday.
Sister Philomena's dismembered body, wrapped in a sleeping bag, was found early on Wednesday in a car park in Virginia Beach, Virginia, nearly 600 miles from Hamilton, her adopted home of 16 years. Her head, hands and feet had been cut off. She was alive until some time on Tuesday, up to 48 hours after being kidnapped along with Sister Lucie Kristofik.
After a nationwide alert, Robinson was captured, at a fast food restaurant in nearby Norfolk, early yesterday.
The 68-year-old nun was due to return home in May to celebrate the 50th anniversary of her vocation. Instead, her remains will be flown home to Cork in the coming weeks.
Her sister, Majorie Buckley, was being comforted by relatives and friends last night in Bishopstown, Cork City, too distraught to speak about a woman described as Georgia's answer to Mother Teresa. A family member, who did not wish to be named, described their horror at the news : "We are very upset. It is hard to believe. We've had a lot of calls, but Marjorie is distraught and she just needs to be left alone to grieve."
Her best friend, Ursuline sister Kathleen Twomey, said Philomena used her life to help the poverty-stricken: "Sr Philomena was very much like Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She would go out at night and help the poor. Every waking hour of her life was dedicated to helping the needy. We often wondered where she got her energy to keep going. She built houses for the homeless, she worked with the various churches in her ecumenical work and also worked in a shop for the poor."
US-based Galway-born friend Fr Daniel Madden said: "It was a very brutal murder that has really shocked the community, particularly in light of the fact she was a sister who was so noble in her work, so caring, so loving for her to have her life ended like that is truly shocking."
Sr Lucie, who lived with Sr Philomena in a modest mobile home, has been interviewed by investigators, although last night she was undergoing counselling in New York. She told detectives that Robinson was inside the mobile home when they returned from Mass on Sunday. The 25-year-old, who is also accused of fatally shooting his father, stole about $900, bound and gagged the nuns and forced them into their car. Overnight on Sunday, they drove to Norfolk.
During the drive, Robinson allegedly confessed to shooting his father.
The three stayed in a motel on Monday night and, the following morning, Robinson left with the still bound and gagged Sr Philomena.
Left behind, Sr Lucie managed to untie herself and escape.