True Crime, Justice, Equality
A Thanksgiving Dinner Turned Deadly
“I’ve been waiting twenty years to do this,” said Paul Merhige before he executed four family members
Thanksgiving is known as one of the deadliest holidays in American history, and not without good reason. One such story comes to mind, that of Paul Merhige. The man behind the Thanksgiving massacre of 2009.
In his younger years, Paul was a talented athlete and a lover of the arts. He appeared to be well-liked and well-adjusted, never resorting to violence. In high school, he was an honours student and a member of the French club. He later attended the University of Miami where he was a member of the Honor Students Association.
It was unclear how or when, but at some point in Paul’s life his mental stability took a turn for the worse. At one point, he shot himself in an attempt to take his own life. His mother Carole stated he suffered from chronic depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Paul had been estranged from his family for a number of years. Dealing with his own issues of mental health, jealousy and hatred, Paul kept to himself until one year in which his parents invited him to a Thanksgiving dinner. It was an opportunity for Paul and his family to make amends; especially his sister Carla who had filed a restraining order against him only a few years prior to the killings for threatening to kill her.
The Thanksgiving dinner took place in Paul’s cousin Muriel Sitton’s house she shared with her husband Jim and their sweet six-year-old daughter Makayla in Jupiter, Florida. Paul and the seventeen guests enjoyed a traditional delicious turkey dinner followed by the extended family gathering around the grand piano, singing along to beautiful Christmas songs.
It was a joyous occasion, but it would not be one for long.
A relatively calm and serene Paul suddenly shifted into an erratic and deranged mood. Thirty-five-year-old Paul exited the house and returned with a loaded pistol retrieved from his vehicle. He then executed several of his family members after muttering the words;
“I’ve been waiting twenty years to do this.”
Paul shot and killed his twin-sisters Carla and Lisa first. Lisa was eight months pregnant at the time. Next, he shot Lisa’s husband Patrick in the stomach who would survive and become the star witness at the murder trial. Paul then shot his seventy-six-year-old aunt Raymonde in the shoulder. As she lay dying on the floor with her husband applying pressure on her wound to stop the bleeding, Paul shot her again, this time hitting her in the chest and killing her.
In one final act of horror, Paul entered his niece Makayla’s bedroom. In a blind and inconsolable rage, he shot and killed the six-year-old child who was tucked in and asleep.
He then fled the home and was captured five weeks later, hiding out in the tropical islands of Florida Keys under an alias.
Paul’s reign of terror was not a last-minute decision. It was a carefully thought-out and calculated choice. Weeks prior to the murders, Paul spent $2,000 on firearms. Upon being asked by the gun salesman what the purpose of the guns was, Paul replied he would be going hunting.
He then withdrew $12,000 from his bank account which he would live off of when he would inevitably go on the run.
Paul was captured on January 2, 2010, when the owner of the motel he was hiding out in saw his face on America’s Most Wanted. The Edgewater Lodge was only a three-hour drive away from where Paul coldly executed four of his family members.
According to a lawsuit filed by Jim and Muriel Sitton against Paul’s parents, they were not informed Paul would be attending the dinner. They stated had they been informed, they would not have allowed Paul entry to the house due to his history of mental illness.
Jim and Muriel blamed the Merhige’s for the massacre orchestrated by Paul. They believed his parents knew Paul’s mental health had deteriorated and that he was a threat, yet they had invited him to their house.
It was noted Paul’s mother Carole stated to her daughter Lisa prior to Paul’s arrival;
“I hope he doesn’t come and kill us all tonight.”
Paul received a plea deal in which he was able to narrowly escape the death penalty by pleading guilty. He was sentenced to seven consecutive life sentences. He is currently incarcerated in Palm Beach County Jail.
Recounting his cruel and callous crimes Paul told his father;
“I think about them. I think about heaven, you know? I think about them constantly. I don’t know how I could have done what I’ve done to everybody, everybody I’ve hurt.”
It was clear Paul had been harbouring feelings of hate and resentment towards his family for decades. In his attempt to find justice for himself, he stole the lives of those whom he should have protected, and of a child simply for the fact she was loved and filled with joy.
Paul must have realized his ultimate goal to take happiness and light away from his family members indefinitely was flawed when in a bittersweet moment during the murder trial, The Sittons announced they were pregnant with a girl.
The Sitton’s had tried for some time to become pregnant. Muriel wanted nothing more than to be a mother again. In 2012, The Sitton's prayers were answered with the arrival of their baby girl, Natalia Grace. Two years later, baby Rayla would complete the Sitton family.
All is not lost, as Makayla’s father Jim recounts;
“One morning I woke up and I heard Muriel faintly singing. My ears perked up and she was singing to Natalia, baby Natalia, Amazing Grace. And at that moment I was like, wow, we’re going to make it.”
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