Thanksgiving Day 2009 began just like most of ours for Paul Merhige and his family. Sixteen family and friends of theirs had gathered at his cousin’s upscale home in Jupiter, FL. The family laughed and told stories, his cousin’s daughter – 6yr old Makayla Sutton, performed songs from an upcoming school recital, and enjoyed their meal together. Three hours had passed. Makayla retired to her room for the evening while the adults remained downstairs talking, unaware of the horror that was about to occur. Paul had told his family that he was going home for the evening. The family had said their goodbyes and went back to enjoying their time at the residence.
At around 10pm Paul returned to the residence, brandishing a gun, and opened fire. His two twin sisters – Carla Merhige and Lisa Knight; whom was pregnant at the time, were his first victims. He then pointed the gun at his 79yr old aunt. Patrick Knight, Merhige’s brother-in-law, was also critically injured. Merhige wasn’t finished yet, he made his way into the bedroom of 6yr old Makayla, and shot her as she was sleeping soundly in her bed. Before fleeing the scene, surviving members of the family claimed Merhige turned and said “I’ve been waiting twenty years to do that”.
What would make a man turn on his own family and kill them in cold blood on Thanksgiving Day? Former high school classmates of Paul’s said he was a great guy that seemed really together, most assumed that he’d go on to be wildly successful in his adult life. Merhige even dedicated his entire yearbook page to his family, stating that he’d love them all forever. But forever didn’t last long. Those that knew Merhige claimed that shortly after high school is when he started to come unhinged.
Mentally Paul began to deteriorate. He was unable to keep a job, unable to care for himself, and began suffering from OCD. Turmoil between Paul and his sister was first apparent nearly a decade prior to the massacre, when Paul requested police protection believing that his sister was trying to kill him. Paul’s sister Carla also requested police protection, when Paul threatened to kill both her and himself. Paul was a ticking time bomb that finally went off that fateful Thanksgiving Day.
A manhunt had begun. Local law enforcement, along with the help of the FBI and US Marshals, set up a tip line and police bulletins were issued to be on the lookout for a suspect fitting Paul’s description. Months had passed, and no one had any information on Paul’s whereabouts. It wouldn’t be until Jan 2010, when details about Paul and his horrific crime were featured on the show America’s Most Wanted, that he was able to be located. Tipped off by the owners of a hotel in Long Key, FL, Paul was finally brought to justice.
After a long and emotional trial, Paul Mirhige was sentenced with 7 consecutive life sentences. As part of a plea bargain, Paul agreed to plead guilty to his pending murder charges in order to avoid receiving a death sentence. Although the rest of his family believes that he should have received a death sentence for his brutal and merciless killings, the judge stated that it was the harshest penalty he was able to impose and assured Paul “You will never see the light of day”. After the proceedings Patrick Knight, widower of Lisa Knight, called Mirhige “a fat loser who was jealous and angry”.
Anger and jealousy is ultimately what drove this once enthusiastic student, who seemed destined for greatness, to the senseless killing of his own family. When we sit down to eat and give thanks during our own meals, take a moment to think about this tragic story and the family, probably not much unlike your own, that had their world torn apart on a day where celebrating family and togetherness seems the most important.