Tuning Out, But Not Turning Away

I heard it twice on the radio before I really heard it. Twin sisters and a six year girl old were gunned own on Thanksgiving by their own brother. This is why I don’t watch local TV news anymore. Reading about the tragedy seems more appropriate — in that it lends itself to more reflection — than the creepy ‘excitement’ that permeates TV coverage of these type of tragedies.

So I try and not watch the coverage, not because I am shocked that people are capable of terrible acts, but because I always seem to be shocked when people commit terrible acts. Better to pray for the victims. My Catholic faith teaches me to pray for the perpetrator as well, but frankly, I never seem to get to the evil-doers.

The resumé of the poor family involved is instructive in that they touched so many key places in our community. Which Miamian could feel impervious based on the following list:

  • Our Lady of Lebanon Eastern Catholic Church
  • Miami-Dade County Courthouse
  • Miami-Dade Guardian-ad-Litem Program
  • University of Miami
  • Florida International University
  • Gulliver Prep Academy
  • Our Lady of Lourdes Academy
  • Epiphany Catholic School

Today’s paper brought the final roundhouse blow of the tragedy; This wasn’t the first murder spree in this family. Back in 1973:

The twins’ aunt — Salwa Merrige-Abrams, a well-known opera singer and the sister of Michael Merhige, who is father of the twins and the suspected shooter — killed her husband and two children at her home in Miami.

So what is the Christian response to living with the evil which is always amongst us, even when it does not shock us during Thanksgiving? C.S. Lewis’ thoughts:

Now is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It won’t last forever. We must take it or leave it.

If you choose God, pray that your actions reflect your choice.

Articles referenced are copied in full at end of post.

Singing sisters silenced forever in Thanksgiving tragedy
Posted on Fri, Nov. 27, 2009

Police are searching for Paul Michael Merhige in connections with a shooting that left four people dead on Thursday night in Jupiter.

Two years ago, twin sisters Carla Merhige and Lisa Knight volunteered at Miami’s juvenile lockup, singing as a duet in front of dozens of troubled girls during Christmas.

Lisa, with her country twang, and Carla, with the more soulful voice, performed before scores of girls who were awaiting trial.

On Thursday, the voices of the two 33-year-old women were silenced forever.

Police say their brother, Paul Michael Merhige, gunned them down, also killing two other relatives — his aunt, 76-year-old Raymonde Joseph, and 6-year-old Makayla Sitton — at a family Thanksgiving gathering in Palm Beach County. Injured were two others, including Lisa’s husband, Patrick Knight, 37. Authorities said Lisa Knight was pregnant. The motive was unclear.

Police fanned out across South Florida in search of Merhige late into the night Friday. Merhige, 35, who lived in Kendall, had fled in a blue 2007 Toyota Camry.

Little is known about him, though friends said Lisa Knight often spoke about her brother and the wonderful times they had together as kids. He graduated from Gulliver Prep and the University of Miami.

On Friday, friends of both women — who had been born and raised in Miami — mourned the violent end to their lives, filling the Facebook walls of the sisters with condolences.

The twins were “inseparable,” speaking on the phone several times daily, spending holidays together and going on joint family vacations, said Sonia Ferrer, the director of Miami-Dade’s Guardian-ad-Litem Program, where Carla worked.

“They each made each other whole,” Ferrer said. “Carla was very proud of her sister’s accomplishments, and her sister was very proud of Carla.”

Said Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman, who helped arrange the holiday season concerts: “[Singing] was a gift they had, and they shared it with everyone — especially the children. I never saw the two sisters without a smile.”

“They were the loveliest human beings you ever could meet,” Lederman said. “This is so sad.”

The sisters had “angelic” voices, often singing at courthouse holiday parties. They also sang at their church, Our Lady of Lebanon on Coral Way, and at funerals, weddings and other occasions, friends said.

The sisters went to Epiphany Catholic School — where they sang duets in elementary school talent shows — and then Our Lady of Lourdes Academy.

Lisa graduated from the University of Miami, where she later got an MBA; Carla from Florida International University.

Lisa Knight left a job at the Miami-Dade County courthouse a few years ago to work with her mother at Coldwell Banker in Pinecrest. She was remembered as a devoted friend, who always had time for others and was knowledgeable beyond her years.

“If you wanted advice she’d always have an ear for you to talk and basically be a friend,” said Miguel Arellano, a real estate agent at Coldwell Banker. “She always had wonderful advice for people. She was very caring and loving.”

Her husband, Patrick Knight, is a litigation attorney and motivational speaker.

Colleagues of Carla Merhige, a children’s advocate who spent nine years at the guardian’s office and recently started a new assignment working with adolescents aging out of the foster care system, described her as dedicated to children and families — and a wonderful co-worker.

On Wednesday, Ferrer said, Merhige worked late into the evening to make sure that a Thanksgiving donation from the mayor of Doral got to 35 needy families in time for the holiday.

“She didn’t want to impose any anybody else, but she wanted to make sure the families got what they needed,” Ferrer said.

Kadie Black, legislative affairs director for Our Kids, Miami’s private foster care agency, knew Merhige for years because Black — whose mom, Joni Goodman, was then the guardian program’s director — virtually grew up around children’s advocates and volunteers.

When Goodman was given a national guardian-ad-litem award in Washington last year, Merhige insisted on traveling to the capital — paying her own way — to share in Goodman’s joy, Black said.

“She was just loved by everybody,” Black said. “Every time she was around people, she was just contagious — her smile, her willingness to go above and beyond. She was a very special person.”

The past few years, Merhige sang at Our Kids’ annual Adoption Day celebration, in which juvenile court judges formalized scores of adoptions, clearing the way for Miami-area children to begin new lives with permanent families.

“Carla was amazing,” said Fran Allegra, Our Kids’ executive director, who added Merhige offered to sing because she wanted to “be a part” of something special.

The sisters were close in good times and bad.

Lisa comforted Carla after her fiancé died suddenly of an aneurysm two years ago, Black said, and Carla was still recovering from the loss.

For months after her fiancé’s death, Lederman said, Carla could no longer sing. But slowly, she regained her voice, and was back on stage again, holding her sister’s hand.

The sisters were connected “physically, emotionally, in every which way,” said Miami-Dade Court administrator Ruben Carrerou, who hired Lisa Knight several years ago to be his executive assistant. Her death was “like losing a daughter.”

Said Ferrer of Miami-Dade’s Guardian-ad-Litem Program: “They both came into the world together, and they left together.”

The Palm Beach Post contributed to this report.
Violent deaths mar Merhige family history
Posted on Sat, Nov. 28, 2009

The Thanksgiving Day tragedy in Palm Beach County bears an eerie similarity to a prior violent episode in the Merhige family.

In July 1973, the twins’ aunt — Salwa Merrige-Abrams, a well-known opera singer and the sister of Michael Merhige, who is father of the twins and the suspected shooter — killed her husband and two children at her home in Miami.

The mezzo soprano — who gave up a high-profile career to raise her children — died five days later, at 43, of a drug overdose.

It happened one day after Merrige-Abrams, a Brooklynite who Anglicized the family’s Syrian name, and James Abrams, 45, a National Airlines pilot, had been in court for a final divorce hearing.

She shot him, daughter Melissa Ann, 10, and son Jack, 14, with a .38 caliber revolver.

The Abrams’ 19-year marriage broke up after Jim had an affair with a flight attendant, fell in love and moved out.

Retired Miami police officer Lloyd Hough, sole investigator on the 1973 murders, came to know Michael Merhige well at the time.

He recognized him in television coverage of Thursday’s events.

“They’re a super-nice family,” Hough said. “It’s the same family.”

He recalled that Jim Abrams came to his ex-wife’s house, in the 5400 block of Southwest 60th Court, after she called saying she needed to see him.

Before he got there, she put the children and their poodle mix into her car. A stereo blared.

As Abrams lit a cigarette in the master bedroom, his ex-wife shot him four times in the chest.

She then called Jack into the house and emptied the gun into his body, reloaded, brought Melissa Ann into a different room and shot her.

She again reloaded, said Hough, then swallowed a handful of barbiturates and lapsed into a coma.

Police found her on the living room floor near her piano. She later died at South Miami Hospital.

The dog was still in the car when Hough arrived at the house, a detail that helped him figure out how Salwa managed to kill three people in 10 minutes.

About Jorge Costales

- Cuban Exile [veni] - Raised in Miami [vidi] - American Citizen [vici]
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2 Responses to Tuning Out, But Not Turning Away

  1. I remember Melissa Abrams very well–we road on the same school bus and were friends. She was such a pretty and nice girl–full of energy and very mature for her age. I still think about her often.

  2. I was friends with Melissa too. Glad to know she isn’t forgotten. I still remember her brother chasing us around the yard and her mom behind a peddle driven sewing machine. They didnt deserve what her mom did to them. I remember reading the Miami Herald afterward and there was more to it than the short synopsis I have read recently. Their last moments had to have been terrifying. I still think about her as well and wonder what her life would have been like. Good to know I’m not the only one who was a friend to her.

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