The Tether

By Amy Donaldson, KSL Podcasts

From left: Lisa Rasmussen Opfar, Dave Rasmussen and Chad Rasmussen. Photo credit: Ryan Meeks, KSL Podcasts.

For Chad Rasmussen grief and forgiveness have always been two strands of the same rope.

He can’t remember the man everyone describes as “the best dad.”

But he also can’t remember a time before his family forgave the man who robbed him of a life with his father.

He accepted his family’s forgiveness of Michael Patrick Moore the same way he accepted their stories about his dad. They were just truths he grew up with.

“That was always just kind of the way that we were,” he said.

It did not mean he avoided grief. But it wasn’t infused with bitterness.

“Mine wasn’t pain and anger necessarily towards Mike,” Chad Rasmussen said. “It was just a pain and an anger that was from the void of not having my dad there.”

So when his family helped his father’s killer win a special parole hearing in 1999, then 18-year-old Chad desperately wanted to be part of it. But as he watched Michael Moore, the man who’d killed his dad and another young father Buddy Booth, walk into the hearing room at the Utah State prison the morning of Feb. 2, 1999, he was blindsided by emotions he’d never experienced.

“I did have a flood of emotion,” he said, tears filling his eyes decades later, “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.”

He couldn’t stop the tears. 

Instead of feeling like he was part of something special, he began to question if his family’s forgiveness even belonged to him.

“I had experienced it in my life,” he said, “but I didn’t know if I was doing that (forgiving) and just following suit. Following like a little duckling (after) my aunts.”

He left the hearing conflicted.

And for months, he wrestled this new question about whether or not he could just follow his family into forgiveness – or if he needed to wrestle with that question on his own.

It was as he was preparing to leave for a two-year religious mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that he decided he needed to find his own answers. How could he preach about forgiveness if he didn’t even understand it?

So he decided to seek answers from the one person who had them: his father’s killer, Michael Patrick Moore. As his mom helped him make arrangements for a prison meeting with Moore, Chad asked his siblings if they’d go with him. His sister Lisa declined the invitation, but his brother, Dave, reluctantly agreed to go.

“I think my initial reaction was hesitation,” said Dave, who was the oldest of the three children. “It was not an idea I came up with. I just wanted to be a support for him. And I think maybe my intent was okay, I’ll go but I’ll be your co pilot. And if this is something you want to do, then you’re going to kind of be the voice.”

So just after Chad’s 19th birthday in November of 1999, Chad and Dave made the same trek to the prison his mother made five years earlier. They even met in the same room.

“I needed to hear what happened,” Chad said. “And I needed to understand the mind of the killer and what he went through and why he had to do it.”

They sat in three chairs that faced each other. This was Chad’s quest so he did the talking, while Dave sat quietly.

“He shared with me all the details and the rumors and the fear that he was experiencing himself,” Chad said. “And even up until where he was standing and where my dad was standing where when he …” 

Chad struggles to control his tears at the memory, but then he continues. “When he shot and killed him, and then when the next innocent person arrives on the scene and how and why he, he chose to kill them as well.”

But when Michael started to share how he’d come to feel remorse, and how he’d tried to do good things in prison, something unexpected happened.

“(Michael) talked about his time in prison, and his own personal change of heart and change of an understanding that what he had thought was right, really was wrong,” Chad said. “And then a healing process that he started going through.”

But instead of feeling comforted or impressed, it made Chad question the years of forgiveness.

“And that’s when my guard went back up against him,” Chad said, “where I felt he was being persuasive, or trying to take advantage of us as a family because we were his pathway out. Without our support, he was looking at a lifetime in prison behind bars.”

He started to feel rage as he considered all his family had done for Michael Moore. Did he even deserve it?

“Maybe our weakness or our vulnerability was his pathway (to freedom),” Chad said, “and (he) is a manipulating murderer, that he could trick us into siding with him so that he could be free. And that’s when I started reflecting on everything that I had heard the previous you know, my lifetime of my family and their healing process and I started thinking to myself, they’ve all been fooled.”

Maybe the man who’d stolen his father from him was stealing mercy from his family now. 

“We’re all falling for this guy’s trick,” Chad said, “and I didn’t want to fall for that trick.”

But even as Chad struggled silently, it seemed too late. Michael Moore had a parole date. It was in 2004, but he was going to get his second chance.

At least, that’s how it seemed when Chad and Dave met with Michael in November of 1999.

But not only would Chad have to wrestle with whether or not his family misjudged Michael Moore, something would happen a few months later that would make all of them – the Rasmussens, the Booths, and even the prison officials – question whether Michael Moore was truly reformed – or if he was what a prosecutor called him 18 years earlier – a chameleon – unrepentant and unchanged.