The Kendall man who killed his twins sisters, elderly aunt, and a cousin's six-year-old daughter in Jupiter on Thanksgiving Day has a history of mental illness and suicide attempts, according to a law enforcement source.
The family also has a history of violence from within. Shooter Paul Michael Merhige's aunt on his father's side, Salwa Merrige-Abrams, murdered her ex-husband and two children in July of 1973 before overdosing and dying after 5 days in a coma.
A popular mezzo-soprano, Merrige-Adams had given up her opera career to care for her family. After 19 years her husband, James Adams, a pilot, left her for a flight attendant, and the two divorced. Shortly after the final hearing, Merrige-Adams asked him over to the family's home in Miami to talk.
Unbeknownst to Adams, his former wife had bundled the two children, 14-year-old Jack and 10-year-old Melissa Ann, into her car along with the family's dog. After shooting Adams four times in the chest in the master bedroom with a .38 caliber revolver, she invited Jack inside, emptied the gun into his body, and then brought Melissa Ann into a different room where she, too, was shot and killed.
Merrige-Abrams then swallowed a handful of barbiturates and later died at South Miami Hospital.
"It's the same family," realized retired Miami police officer Lloyd Hough, who investigated the 1973 murders.
"They're a super-nice family."
It's not known publicly what caused Paul Michael Merhige to open fire without warning on friends and relatives at his cousin's home for Thanksgiving dinner, but the family's handyman, Luis Sanchez, described Merhige as a "conflictive" person and police have referred to some strained relations within the family. Still, Jupiter Police Chief Frank Kitzerow said, "the problems could not have been that bad because they invited him over for dinner."
Merhige, 35, lived with his parents in Kendall. He had been an honors student at Gulliver Preparatory Academy, where he also played baseball, and at the University of Miami. Records show he was arrested in Miami-Dade County in 1998 on a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct, and a long-term acquaintance referred to him as "mentally troubled."
At some point Thursday evening, Merhige left the gathering of 17 and returned to the home with a gun. He shot and killed his two twin sisters, Lisa Merhidge Knight, who was pregnant, and Carla Merhige, both 33, and an aunt, Raymonde Joseph, 76. His brother-in-law, Patrick Knight, was also shot but remains in stable condition at St. Mary's Medical Center in West Palm Beach, and Clifford Gebara, a cousin, was treated for a graze wound and released. Six-year-old Makayla Sitton, daughter of Merhidge's cousin and host, was shot and killed in her bed.
Merhige remains at large.