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10 Years After The Jupiter Thanksgiving Murders: A Family Remembers

Posted at 11:00 PM, Nov 22, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-22 23:50:03-05

JUPITER, Fla. — Thanksgiving, 10 years ago.

An uninvited guest shows up at a cousin's house for dinner.

Before the evening ended, Paul Merhige pulled out a gun, killed his two sisters, his aunt and then walked to the bedroom of sleeping 6-year- old, Makayla Sitton, and shot her in her bed.

Makayla was Jim and Muriel Sitton's only child. Also dead, Muriel's mother, Raymonde Joseph, and cousins. Their killer now sits in a prison cell for the rest of his life.

For the Sitton's, they were sentenced to a lifetime without their precious daughter.

We checked in on them, 10 years after the tragedy.

Muriel Sitton says, “She would have been 16 going on 17. I can't believe it's been 10 years. Sometimes it feels like yesterday other times it feels like it's been one long marathon."

Jim Sitton says, "After the murders, all the joy and laughter and little girl giggles left us a cold empty house.”

During their months and years of grief, one thing was clear...they wanted to be parents again.

Muriel Sitton says, “I felt the Lord had placed in our hearts that we needed to keep moving and that it wasn’t over for us...that chapter wasn’t over.”

Having a baby was not guaranteed or easy. But In 2012, their prayers were answered with the birth of Natalia Grace.

"One morning I woke up and I heard Muriel faintly singing," says Jim, "My ears perked up and she was singing to Natalia, baby Natalia, Amazing Grace. And at that moment I was like, wow, we’re going to make it. Because up to that point I didn’t know if we were going to make it.”

After years of such incredible sorrow joy and music had returned to the Sitton home. Then two years later, Rayla arrived and completed their family.

Muriel Sitton says, “It’s a tremendous blessing to be able to be a mother again. Having these 2 girls. Every day it’s a reminder again of
God’s grace.”

Jim and Muriel never moved out of their home after the murders. I wondered why they stayed?

Jim says that's a question they have gotten many times over the years. He says one awful night does not erase the years of happiness they spent with Makayla in their home.

"Now I couldn't even think of leaving now. I don't think it's possible to leave this house. you leave this house and you leave all of those memories."

Today the little girl giggles are back, especially heartwarming coming from their room which used to be their big sister's.

Muriel Sitton says, “It’s a great joy to have this part of Makayla still alive in our house in so many ways...clothes, books, music. We don’t hide sharing that she lived, that she was here. So we embrace all of the things of Makayla’s and have made them theirs.”

As she did with Makayla, Muriel homeschools both girls.

Muriel and Jim have sheltered their daughters from the details about the murders of their sister and beloved grandmother.

“They know something happened and something happened at the same time with my mother," says Muriel, " When the time comes we know God will give us the right words and wisdom and how to share it with them.”

The couple says faith is why they survived losing their child when statistically many couples don't.

“We’re Christians and without our faith in Christ and his strength, I don’t think we would have been able to make it and I know we wouldn’t be married," says Jim.

“He’s just given me an ability to move forward and when those memories come…I’m able to not crumble like I did in the
early days," says Muriel.

Their faith calls upon them to forgive the murderer.

“Forgiveness. In the beginning, it wasn’t even an option for me," says Jim, "How can that be forgiven.”

“Hmmm. Yeah, there’s a lot to forgive in all of this. But it’s a process," says Muriel, " We’ve done it, and we think we’re done and you have to keep doing it.”

Jim says, “ I still wrestle with the rage inside that comes back and you forgive again. You forgive, and rage, and forgive again and God’s not finished with me yet. But we’re so much further along on that journey than we were back then.”

A journey that has taken them from their darkest hours to a life that’s full, rich and blessed.

Muriel says, “I pray that people don’t look at us as just survivors or people who have gone through this and ‘Oh, look they have 2 girls and finally they can be happy.’ No, I pray that they see that we are trophies of God’s Grace.”

They are ever mindful of the example they are setting for their girls.

"I want them to look back and say, Oh Wow, that's faith. I saw it. I remember my mom and dad walking through that and that's faith."

They now hope to become a source of strength for others.

Muriel says, "I pray if a little glimpse of our lives will help them to just “lookup” and say you know what, there’s something bigger than me and if I put my trust in God, I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, but he will get you through.”