Three survivors of a 2009 Thanksgiving shooting rampage filed a lawsuit Thursday against the suspect's parents, claiming they knew he was going to show up unannounced, feared he might become violent, and did nothing to stop him from killing four people.
The complaint was filed by Muriel and Jim Sitton, whose 6-year-old daughter Makayla Joy was killed, and Antoine Joseph, whose wife Raymonde was killed. It names as defendants Michael and Carole Merhige, whose son Paul awaits trial in the killings. He has pleaded not guilty.
The defendants' twin daughters were also killed, but the Sittons claim all of the deaths could have been prevented. The Merhiges, the lawsuit argues, knew their son would show up to dinner at the Sittons' house and feared what he might do. The suspect's mother even told one of her daughters, according to the complaint, "I hope he doesn't come and kill us all tonight."
The Merhiges are Muriel Sitton's aunt and uncle. At a press conference announcing the lawsuit, the Sittons said their decision wasn't about money, but accountability.
"If someone were to bring a known dangerous rattlesnake or pit bull into your house, uninvited, without warning and that pit bull started killing everybody and the person who brought that animal into the house did nothing to try to stop the killing, and your daughter is dead and your mother-in-law is dead, wouldn't you want them to be held accountable?" Jim Sitton asked.
He added: "This is the only outlet that we have to pursue justice."
A message left at the Merhiges' home was not immediately returned. It's not known if they have an attorney.
The lawsuit alleges that two days ahead of the holiday, the Merhiges invited their son to Thanksgiving without telling the Sittons. It says they were aware he had not been taking his medication and that he was financially dependent on his parents. They knew he owned a gun, according to the complaint, and had slept with their bedroom door locked when Paul lived with them.
Michael Merhige is identified as a former CIA agent in the lawsuit, which says he took no steps to stop his son during the shooting, even when his gun jammed. Additionally, the lawsuit says though Michael Merhige was the only person with a cellphone in his pocket, he never dialed 911.
"Even though they might not have intended it, they negligently allowed Paul to appear at the residence of the Sittons, unbeknownst to anyone and uninvited," said David Prather, the attorney representing the Sittons and Joseph, who planned to file his lawsuit seeking unspecified damages later Thursday.
Some 16 people gathered at the Sittons' home in Jupiter on Nov. 26, 2009, eating a traditional dinner, and sitting in a horseshoe, singing church songs around the brown Baldwin piano. Police said Merhige left the house at one point that evening, then returned with a gun, saying "I have been waiting 20 years to do this."
He was on the run for more than a month, but now awaits a trial expected to take place in January. He could face the death penalty if convicted.
Though there were four people killed, the story of Makayla Joy has become most well-known, because of videos showing her captivating personality, and a children's book she wrote that was posthumously published. A foundation has been started in her name and an annual concert is held in her honor.