‘The Letter Season 2’: Children of murdered men inherited trauma; can they inherit forgiveness?

Jun 4, 2024, 12:05 PM | Updated: 3:04 pm

From left: Lisa Rasmussen Opfar, Dave Rasmussen and Chad Rasmussen....

From left: Lisa Rasmussen Opfar, Dave Rasmussen and Chad Rasmussen. (Ryan Meeks, KSL Podcasts)

(Ryan Meeks, KSL Podcasts)

Editor’s note: This is the seventh story in a series highlighting Season 2 of the KSL podcast “The Letter.” This season explores topics like grief and forgiveness, but under very different circumstances. The podcast explores what happened after two young fathers were murdered outside an iconic Utah restaurant in 1982. The families struggle to rebuild and have to wrestle with questions that take decades to answer. Does everyone deserve forgiveness? Does it matter if there is no remorse? And if trauma can be passed through generations, can forgiveness also be passed down?

When Lisa Rasmussen Opfar hears any bell or sound that precedes an announcement, she is no longer a 47-year-old woman living a full, happy life in 2024.

She falls through time, back to a snowy Friday morning in 1982, when she was a carefree 5-year-old sitting in her kindergarten class. That intercom squawk interrupted whatever she was learning, and it taught her a different, darker lesson: life cannot be trusted.

That sound pulled her from class and sent her home to a completely different life.

Instead of the life where she was a “Daddy’s girl” who could rattle off a long list of ways her father spoiled and adored her, she began to live a life laced with longing – and fear.

Because when she got home the morning of March 5, 1982, she learned her father, Jordan Rasmussen, had been murdered outside the Log Haven restaurant. Her world shattered.

Her family helped her piece together a new life. And it’s a great life.

But there is always a sense of loss, of pain, of longing.

And it all started with that sound.

“Whenever I would hear that beep and then an announcement, I would get nervous,” she said.

That sound echoed through her life. It happened in high school.

“One time I was in high school, and I heard the beep, and my name,” she said. “I got called to the office and I thought, ‘Oh, no, what’s happened?’”

As she walked to the office, her mind raced, her fear spiraled. Who was it? Her mom? Her little brother? Maybe her grandma?

“So I went to the office and checked in,” she said. “Hey, my name was just called over the intercom and (the school secretary) said, ‘Oh, that must have been a mistake.’”

But it wasn’t a mistake.

What Lisa didn’t know is that the anxiety that was just beginning to stalk her, was terrorizing her mother too.

“My friend had picked me up,” Lisa said. “And shortly after, my mom heard sirens, and this was before cell phones. So my mom got nervous. So she called my school to see if I had made it okay.” The office staff called her from class to make sure she had arrived safely.

Neither of them knew how their fear affected the other.

“My mom didn’t know that I had anxieties about the intercom,” Lisa said. “And I didn’t know that she was having anxiety that she heard sirens after I left the house.”

That sound still finds her.

Like when she and her husband went on a cruise with friends, leaving their children with family for the week.

“Whenever I would hear that bell on the cruise ship, I would get anxiety, because I thought ‘Oh, they’re going to call me and tell me something’s happened back home.’”

The more she built a life that she loved, the more she risked losing.

I’m pretty much affected by it every day,” Lisa buries her face in her hands and starts to sob. “My anxiety didn’t manifest itself until I was married. Not that it had anything to do with my husband at all, but I think it’s because I cared and loved someone so much that I didn’t want him to be taken away from me. And with every child that’s been born, my anxiety has just increased more and more. I know that the anxiety is because of that tragedy.”

Lisa wasn’t the only child left with remnants of a trauma she can barely remember. When Michael Moore killed Jordan Rasmussen and Buddy Booth, he left five children to grow up with ghosts; to wrestle with emotions they were too young to understand.

Headstone of Buddy Booth at Elysian Gardens.

Headstone of Buddy Booth at Elysian Gardens. (Ryan Meeks, KSL Podcasts)

Her older brother, Dave, was the only one with his own memories of their dad.

“I remember one time being in the backyard of our new home,” he said. “(We were) walking around the yard, and I remember some conversation about a hot air balloon, and one day he was going to take me up in a hot air balloon. I remember him talking about going to Disney World. I remember (him) just kind of filling me with all these wonderful opportunities and dreams.”

He stops to stifle a cry.

“It just kind of gave me a lot of excitement as a little kid,” Dave said.

Like his siblings, he grew up with stories about his dad. Stories that almost always illustrated one thing: that Jordan was the best dad.

“The stories they were trying to convey to me that he was a great man and how much he loved his kids and would do anything for them,” he said, choking back emotion. Hearing the stories (from) aunts and uncles talking about how amazing he was in some ways, I guess I feel cheated. It didn’t feel fair.”

But even as a boy, he realized he had more than his younger siblings. He was eight when his dad was murdered. Lisa was just five and Chad was just 16-months-old.

“And so then I think okay, well, those experiences I do have, even though I may have blocked them out (due to trauma),” he said. “They’re experiences that my siblings didn’t have at all.”

Lisa said whenever the family got together, her aunts made sure her dad was a part of the gathering.

“Almost every time that we would get together and still do, one of the aunts will make it a point to talk to me,” she said smiling, “and they don’t coordinate this with each other, but they would always tell me how much he loved me. And what a great man he was.”

Lisa can’t tell you what his favorite ice cream flavor is, but she can tell you stories about his kindness, his honesty and how he adored his little girl. Lisa and her brothers have made their dad real with other people’s memories.

“I know he was tall because I’ve seen pictures of him standing next to my mom,” she said. “And I know that he was kind and a peacemaker.”

He belongs to her because of them.

Chad can’t remember his dad – or even the trauma of the day he was killed. But that didn’t mean he escaped the grief of the loss.

I don’t have any of my own memories,” he said. “It’s all secondhand. And yeah, that that was probably what has been the hardest.”

It’s the stories, he said, that have helped him have something real, someone to look up to.

“I’m grateful that my family did,” he said, “that they did share all the good. Because it did, like, set that standard of, of how I wanted to be and then something to aim for.”

And all three of Jordan Rasmussen’s children are grateful for something else: their family’s forgiveness of the man who murdered their dad, Michael Patrick Moore.

I know that I have issues in my life that remain from this trauma,” said Lisa. “But even with all the anxieties that I do have, I don’t ever blame that on him. I’m glad that I don’t have to have such negative feelings towards someone on top of dealing with my own anxieties and insecurities. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have that negative poison in my body, on top of the other things that I feel. For me, forgiveness is to free ourselves. It’s to free ourselves from that poison that negativity in us.”

And, like her brothers, she just accepted the forgiveness her mother and aunts struggled to find.

“I think that forgiveness was definitely (just part of my life),” she said. “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. …I saw their love and their compassion and the love and light that they shared. That bled into me.”

The Rasmussen children accepted forgiveness so completely, that when their parents and grandparents helped Michael Moore win a special parole hearing in February of 1999, they wanted to be part of it. For Chad Rasmussen, who’d just turned 18, it was the first time he’d attended a hearing of any kind. It was also the first time he’d seen the man who murdered his dad.

And it would not be the uplifting experience he expected.

In fact, it would call into question everything he’d accepted about his family’s 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,” he said, choking back tears. “I did have a flood of emotion mostly the pain that I had been going through and seeing for the first time this man that had caused that.”

Chad struggled in silence with pain, anger and confusion.

I had a lot of conflict,” he said, “Because, again, I’m in the throes of my pain and I just wept through the entire trial.”
And then he had a darker thought, one that wouldn’t let go of him.

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

He wrestled those questions for months, eventually confiding in his mother. He thought there was only one way for him to resolve his struggle. He needed to meet with the man who caused this pain, the man who shot his dad to death when he was a toddler. He needed to sit with him, look him in the eye, and ask him questions.

He needed to decide if his family’s forgiveness could even belong to him. He needed to decide if Michael Patrick Moore deserved his forgiveness.

Whatever his family had given him, it was just a start. And meeting with his dad’s killer was how he needed to decide what came next for him.

“I realized,” he said. “That I needed to complete that for myself.”

No doubt he’d benefited from his family’s decision to forgive.

“I had experienced it in my life,” he said. “But I didn’t know if I was doing that and just following, like a little duckling, (what) my aunt’s (were) going through or if I needed to do this for myself.”

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‘The Letter Season 2’: Children of murdered men inherited trauma; can they inherit forgiveness?