Thanksgiving is, obviously, about giving thanks. But for Paul Merhige, thanks were the last thing on his mind when he made a rare appearance at a family Thanksgiving dinner on November 26, 2009. As told on an episode of Homicide for the Holidays (Saturdays 8/7c), the Sitton family—Merhige’s cousins—invited 16 family members to Thanksgiving, and were forced to add one more at the last minute when Merhige unexpectedly invited himself. His insistence on joining the family for the holiday was ominous, with his mother recalling her first thought, "I hope he doesn't come and kill us all tonight," a sentiment echoed by her daughter, Merhige’s sister.
But as Merhige spent three hours eating turkey, participating in family sing-alongs, and joining in the happy tradition, his mother and sister brushed their foreboding thoughts aside. Even when Makayla, the Sitton’s 6-year-old daughter, finished performing the “The Nutcracker” for the family and Merhige disappeared without announcement, no one thought anything was out of the ordinary. After all, Merhige was a little strange, and had probably just “ghosted” and gone home without telling anyone.
Suddenly, Merhige came back to the party—and he came bearing some very odd “gifts." Armed with guns, he opened fire on his family, systematically shooting them without ever displaying a hint of anger. Among Merhige’s victims were his twin sisters, Carla Merhige and Lisa Knight, the second of whom was pregnant at the time. It is believed Merhige wanted to “punish” his parents with their deaths. Merhige also shot and killed his 76 year-old-aunt, and little Makayla, who he shot three times.
Merhige’s uncle survived the attack after the gun jammed and failed to shoot a bullet when it was pointed at him. Merhige’s brother-in-law Patrick Knight, was shot in the stomach but survived the attack. After the carnage, Merhige fled the scene, and a manhunt ensued.
In the following days, it was revealed that Merhige planned the entire ordeal, having spent $2,000 on guns and ammunition before Thanksgiving. He’d also packed his bag, and collected $12,000 cash. In the week following the murders, Merhige was creepily seen lurking around one of the buildings where his sister had lived, and a 911 call drew a SWAT team to the scene. Again, Merhige evaded the police.
It wasn’t until five weeks later that Merhige was finally apprehended, when Melinda Pfaff, a Florida Keys motel owner recognized Merhige as one of her guests and alerted the police. When arresting him, the police asked Merhige if he knew why he was being cuffed, and he apparently responded “because I killed my family.”
Unfortunately, the Merhige and Sitton families will have trouble giving thanks at future family dinners.