The children of murdered men inherited trauma; can they inherit forgiveness?

Jun 4, 2024, 8:00 PM | Updated: 8:54 pm

Siblings Lisa Rasmussen Opfar, Dave Rasmussen, Center, and Chad Rasmussen meet at Elysian Gardens i...

Siblings Lisa Rasmussen Opfar, Dave Rasmussen, Center, and Chad Rasmussen meet at Elysian Gardens in May. The path to forgiveness has been very different for each of them. (Ryan Meeks, KSL Podcasts)

(Ryan Meeks, KSL Podcasts)

SALT LAKE CITY – Dave and Chad Rasmussen both treasure a memory of sharing the night sky with their dad when they were just boys.

But they are not the same night.

And, in fact, there is one very painful difference. The night Dave shared with his dad was about the future, about the dreams he had for his son, and he could reach out and hold his dad’s hand.

“I remember some conversation about (how) one day he was going to take me up in a hot air balloon,” Dave said. “And I remember him talking about going to Disney World. I remember just kind of filling me with all these wonderful opportunities and dreams and (it) just kind of gave me a lot of excitement as a little kid.”

The night Chad shared with his dad happened several years after Jordan Rasmussen was murdered alongside another young father – Buddy Booth.

“There was one particular night,” Chad said. “I was at my aunt Diane’s house, and me and my cousin Mitch, were sleeping outside. I remember he fell asleep, and I’m still sitting there awake, looking up at the stars or to the heavens.

“And there was a particular star that stood out bright to me. And I felt a closeness to that star and to my dad at that time.”

The next morning, his aunt, Jordan’s younger sister, asked if he knew that the day before was his father’s birthday. He hadn’t known. But he never forgot that birthday, or how they sort of got to spend it together.

“Throughout the next several years, I could always find that star,” he said, his voice cracking with emotion. “And had a sense of connection.”

Wishing for a father-son talk

A few minutes for a father-son talk were what Chad Rasmussen wanted most. And, in what felt like a cruel twist of fate, his father spent his last night alive with him.

They’d been locked out of the house, and his father decided to wait until his mom got home by sitting in the family sedan in the garage. His dad told his mom that time playing with and cuddling 16-month-old Chad had been a gift.

Chad knows that story well.

But he can’t remember the feel of his father’s arms around him, the sound of his laugh, or the scent of his jacket as he laid his head on his shoulder.

It’s real for him because his mother told him about it, she wrote it down, and even put it in his baby book.

It’s real because his family made it real.

His dad belongs to him because of their stories.

Accepting forgiveness

And the other thing he and his siblings had was their family’s forgiveness. Because their family had forgiven their father’s killer — Michael Moore — they inherited a version of it that felt real.

The forgiveness comforted them. It guided them.

It was something they accepted, just like they accepted stories about their dad. They grew up listening to their mom, aunts and grandparents talk about the letters they exchanged with Michael, about the hope they had for the killer’s future.

“I knew that my mom had been writing to Mike,” Lisa Rasmussen Opfar said. “It wasn’t a secret, but it also wasn’t like this huge thing, either. … I thought ‘this is good. … I’ve been taught that it’s required for us to forgive all men … everyone.’”

And all three of the children seemed to absorb the family’s forgiveness — almost without realizing it.

“I owe a huge part of that to my mom, and to my grandparents and my aunts, because they were such good examples to me,” she said. “I saw their love and their compassion and the love and light that they share, (and) that it bled into me.”

Episode 8 of The Letter, Season 2: Inheritance

Acceptance turns to turmoil in the courtroom

So when the Rasmussens helped Michael Moore get a special parole hearing, Chad Rasmussen wanted to be part of it.

But he didn’t realize it would make him question everything he’d accepted about forgiveness.

“I remember sitting there in the courtroom at the prison, and they walked Mike Moore into the room and that was the first time I’d seen him,” Chad said. “I did have a flood of emotion, a whole mix of emotions, mostly the pain that I had been going through and seeing for the first time this man that had caused that.”

Chad silently wrestled a growing animosity. He was with his family to “show justice and mercy” but all he felt was turmoil.

“I had a lot of conflict then,” he said, “because again I’m in the throes of my pain. And I just wept through the entire (hearing).”

Inherited, or earned forgiveness?

In the weeks and months after the hearing, Chad’s conflict remained. And he realized something as he prepared to leave for a religious mission in December of 1999.

If he was going to go out into the world and talk about forgiveness, he needed to know if his family’s forgiveness even belonged to him.

“I started thinking to myself,” he said. “‘They’ve all been fooled.’ … We’re all falling for this guy’s trick. And I didn’t want to fall for that trick.”

He needed to understand the man they’d all forgiven — Michael Moore. And the only way to do that was to go to the prison, talk to him, and decide for himself – had they all made a terrible mistake?

Please listen and follow The Letter – Season 2: Ripple Effect wherever you find your favorite podcasts. Available April 16, with new episodes available every Tuesday.

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The children of murdered men inherited trauma; can they inherit forgiveness?