Only a few other happenings apart from terrorist attacks have shocked America more than the r*pe of an 85-year-old nun by a teenager in Pennsylvania.
The nun is now in the hospital, and the teenage boy in custody for r*pe and battery leaving her community reeling in shock at the brutal and senseless crime.
Prayers and messages of support are pouring in from all over the US to St Titus Catholic Church and its neighbouring convent in western Pennsylvania.
The century old church is an active Catholic parish in the small steel industry town of Aliquippa.
Known for its “ministry of hospitality” which opens its doors to all comers, the church was in full swing, midway through a packed calendar of holy days and events leading up to Christmas.
Last Friday, an 85-year-old retired nun left the Sisters of St Joseph convent where she lives to walk next door to the parking lot behind St Titus church and drop papers into a recycling bin.
A young man approached her, tapping her on the shoulder and asking if she needed any help.
“She said that when she turned to look at him, he had a very nice smile,” Aliquippa police Detective Sergeant Steven Roberts later told CBS news.
The assailant then choked her, punched her, and threw her to the ground where he r*ped her.
The unnamed sister was taken to hospital, where she underwent surgery for a broken jaw.
The nun, who was the victim of a bag snatch on the same spot seven years ago, was able to describe her attacker.
Another man gave a clothing description of someone he had seen nearby before the attack, and investigating officers matched up a bootprint in the snow.
Police arrested Andrew Clarence Bullock, 18, who initially denied involvement, saying he was just walking by the church at the time, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette reported.
He later admitted attacking the nun, but gave no reason.
“This is not acceptable on any level,” Aliquippa police Chief Andre Davis said. “This is unacceptable to the whole community.”
The nun, described as a “sweet lady” and a community advocate who visits hospital patients and others in need, has been the victim of a previous attacker, who she forgave.
In 2006, after returning to the convent from a Saturday evening Mass at St Titus, an assailant snatched her purse.
Worshippers said she not only fought off the purse snatcher, but told him that she would forgive him of his crime and then gave him $10.
“It’s a shame, what happened this time,” said Eddie Katkich, 72, a retired Aliquippa police sergeant and member of the St. Titus congregation.
“But that’s a sign of the times,” Katkich said.
“As Sisters of St. Joseph, we live and work to bring all people into union with God, and sister manifests that spirit every day,” Sister Mary Pellegrino, congregational moderator for the Sisters of St. Joseph in Baden, said in a statement.
“Sister is a passionate advocate of nonviolence, peace and justice, and each month she conducts a prayer vigil for peace in the chapel of our Motherhouse.
“As we offer continued prayers of healing for our sister, we also pray for the young man who has been arrested in the assault.”
The sister was released from hospital on Saturday, local time.
“She’s always very pleasant, very happy and very helpful,” Det Sgt Roberts said.
“She’s always been concerned about people within the community, looking out for people within the community.”
St Titus’ pastor, Reverend Paul Householder said the nun was “quite a talker and has a great personality. People enjoy her visits.”
Bullock remained in the local Beaver County Jail on Saturday on charges including r*pe and aggravated assault.