JUPITER - Authorities are scouring South Florida today for Michael Merhige, a 35-year-old Miami-area man who police say shattered a family Thanksgiving dinner in Jupiter, fatally shooting his twin sisters, his 76-year-old aunt, and killing his 6-year-old niece as she slept in her bed.
"God packed a lot of sweetness into that little body," Jim Sitton, shaken and ashen, told reporters this morning. The photographer for WPTV-TV Ch.l 5 found himself on the other side of the camera in the worst way: 6-year-old Makayla Sitton was his only daughter and Lisa and Carla Merhige, both 33, were his sisters, according to the station's website.
Jupiter police say 17 invited friends and relatives were packed into the home at 104 Via Veracruz, near Military Trail and Indiantown Road.
"I heard three quick shots. Shortly after, I heard the police cars and the helicopters," said Vera Armstrong, who was house-sitting for her daughter about three houses away from the salmon-colored, barrel-tiled Sitton home. "I called my daughter and she said, 'Oh no, don't tell me it was Makayla.' "
Neighbors recalled a wide-eyed, polite young girl who loved dogs. Her parents recently purchased her a King Charles Spaniel named Abby. Makayla was planning to perform today in The Nutcracker at the Eissey Theater in Palm Beach Gardens.
"I just talked to her two days ago. When we moved here two years ago, Makayla and her parents came right over to welcome us. What a wonderful family," said Jackie Feldman, who lives in the neighborhood of new, well-trimmed homes near Jupiter Community High School.
Feldman said the little girl was home-schooled..