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Betsy Kerekes reviews Legacy of Mercy, a true story about life, death, and a mother’s heroic forgiveness.

I must warn you: At first, this book is a difficult read. The story of Brian Muha and Aaron Land's abduction from the house in Steubenville, Ohio, where they were staying for summer courses at Franciscan University in 1999, and later killed, is rough. I wanted to read through my fingers even though I already knew the story because I was there. 


Legacy of Mercy


Reading about what happened in Legacy of Mercy: A True Story of Murder and a Mother's Forgiveness gave me flashbacks, starting with Brian’s older brother, Chris, making phone calls to friends telling them Brian was missing and asking them to pray. I cringed thinking back on when Chris called me, hearing the strain in his voice and remembering his mother, Rachel, in the background telling him to hurry because they needed to keep the phone line open in case the police called with news. 

I took time off work that summer to drive the two hours to Steubenville to be with the family and help in whatever (non-existent) way I could. Just as readers of this book will, I walked beside them in that long procession from Christ the King chapel on campus to the house Rachel Muha would ultimately purchase to be housing for priests—making the house holy despite the tragedy that began there. 

I saw again Rachel’s triumph over evil and darkness when she announced in front of tv cameras and a packed church, that she forgave the people who took her son and Aaron. Instead of expressing justified anger, she pleaded for anyone who knew anything about where the boys were, to please come forward. Hardest of all, I relived the moment in the courtroom when a police officer had the heart-wrenching task of telling a mother that her son had been found, but sadly no, not alive.  

Author Gretchen Crowe does an excellent job relaying these events palpably for readers, who will, undoubtedly, feel the pain of this tragedy as though they too, knew the people personally. Then, mercifully, the book continues to the next part of Rachel Muha’s just-beginning story.  




Feeling sorry rather than vengeful for her son’s killers, two boys roughly Brian’s age, Rachel chose to do what she could to prevent more inner-city youth from falling into the same patterns of drugs, gangs, and crime that the perpetrators did. Rachel founded The Center in her home city of Columbus, Ohio’s worst neighborhood. Here children come for meals, education, physical, and, most importantly, spiritual enrichment, as well as a safe community to just be a kid—one free from the stress of stray bullets, drug-addicted or jailed parents, rats in their homes and schools, not enough or no food, or the fact that they often don’t have a bed to sleep on. 

Rachel’s journey in founding The Center; the Farm, where children experience nature, gardening, and animal care; and the Day School as an alternative to the abysmal local public schools, was, and continues to be, wrought with challenges. Donations and lots of prayer keep them afloat. (I recommend visiting BrianMuhaFoundation.org and signing up for their newsletter.) 




The book ends with testimonies of children, called Racers as part of the Run the Race Club, whom “Miss Rachel” has helped. Some of them, now grown, work full-time or volunteer at The Center. I had the privilege of meeting two of these employees and several Racers at the Day School this past March. 

The school has many saint-dedicated classrooms as well as activity rooms for art, sewing, hair styling, theater, dance, woodworking, music, a chapel, a library, a games room, and a pantry filled with food donations for children to take home with them. 

The Brian Muha Foundation, originally created for scholarships for students to Brian’s high school as well as Franciscan University, is currently raising funds for a much-needed gym expansion. (If so moved, you can find the donate button here.) There is also an annual golf outing fundraiser in Columbus, which coincides with Brian’s birthday, July 23, and the Night of Champions in October, this year on the 26th. If interested, you can bid on auction items remotely and have your winnings mailed to you.  

Whatever difficulties you have or will encounter in your life, the story of Brian’s death and Rachel’s triumph over evil will inspire you to persevere. Do pick up a copy of Legacy of Mercy (always best to get it directly from the Catholic publisher) and check out the Brian Muha Foundation for ways you can get involved and help these poor inner-city children, too. 

Ask for Legacy of Mercy at your local Catholic bookseller, or order online from Amazon.com or the publisher, Our Sunday Visitor.




Copyright 2023 Betsy Kerekes
Images: copyright 2023 Betsy Kerekes, all rights reserved.
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