“This just don’t happen this close to home,” said one resident.
Residents interviewed consented to talk on condition of anonymity about the incident leaving Rita Merritt, 27, of 11 East 2nd St., Apt. A, Aragon, dead and her husband, Shay Merritt, 31, in jail without bond on a felony murder charge.
Police said they at first thought this was a suicide attempt but Shay Merritt confessed that night to the killing, according to Greg Ramey, Assistant Special Agent in Charge with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI).
Ramey said it wasn’t determined what sparked the violence.
Another neighbor said the neighborhood hasn’t been the same since the incident. Both of the Merritt’s cars remain in the driveway in front of the apartment and everything appears as always, but the neighbor is reminded that it’s not as it was.
“It’s been weird the past couple of days not seeing her the way I do,” the neighbor said.
The Merritts had three children, Joshua, 5, Savannah, 4, and Gabriel, 3, neighbors said.
Rita Merritt worked at Ingle’s and Shay Merritt also had a job, but it is unclear where he worked. He had served two tours in Afghanistan in the U.S. Army, neighbors said.
They had been living in the apartment about six months when Rita Merritt was killed, residents said.
One resident said Rita Merritt seemed to be a good person and never talked about any problems at home.
“She was always real friendly. She always waved and smiled,” the resident said.
“She was a beautiful human being inside and out.”
Neighbors said there was no indication that Saturday that violence was on the brink.
“What happened that day really blows my mind,” one said.
A resident said most everyone was in the back of the small complex that day, enjoying the sunshine, washing cars, grilling and allowing the kids to play.
The complex has more than 10 children who play together and all of them were in the backyard area on Saturday, residents said.
So was Shay Merritt.
“It was out playing with his kids. He pulled mine around in a wagon. He was smiling,” a resident said.
Another agreed, saying Merritt seemed to be having a good time with the children.
Police and others told residents that Rita Merritt’s body was found in the apartment’s hallway with a single gunshot wound to the head, just behind an ear, according to neighbors.
No one heard a gunshot or arguing that night, residents said.
One resident said Shay Merritt’s behavior afterward was odd and frightening.
“He was dressed in civilian clothes that day,” the resident said. “When I looked out to see what was going on, he was in military dress.”
The clothes Shay Merritt wore that night included camouflage pants and a white shirt, the resident said.
“He was on the ground beating his hands on the pavement saying ‘why, why why,” the resident said.
While no one saw anything strange about the Merritt’s relationship the Saturday of the killing, one resident said Merritt had previously expressed odd behavior, which concerned her family.
“It seems like all he would talk about is Afghanistan, war, politics,” the neighbor said. “We started to notice him walking around with his gun a lot.”
The neighbor said Merritt would dress in camouflage and walk around in a wooded area with his gun.
“He would set jugs or bottles in the trees and shoot them,” one said.
The neighbor said he got a gun out intending to shoot a stray dog that had appeared in the neighborhood. The resident said the dog was friendly and had a collar and the only reason Merritt didn’t shoot it was because children were petting it.
“About a week ago, my son wanted to go play with their kids and I went over with him to knock on the door,” the neighbor explained.
As they knocked, the Merritt’s puppy started barking.
“Shay darted around from the back of the apartment with a gun. He was bent over like a soldier would be. He darted around and pulled the gun on us,” the neighbor said.
Merritt told the neighbor he thought they were a stray dog.