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'Our hearts go with you'

About 150 people walked from the church to the house where the two victims had lived and where relatives waited to accept flowers from the mourners.

Monday, June 07, 1999

By Grace Rishell and Robert Dvorchak, Post-Gazette Staff Writers

In a service that combined traditional Catholic liturgy and contemporary Christian music, two college students were mourned yesterday by relatives, friends and classmates.

  Joan Gail mourns at the steps of the Steubenville house where her friends, Franciscan University students Aaron Land and Brian Muha, were abducted. Flowers were placed on the porch after a Mass for the two slain students and a procession to the house yesterday morning. (Robin Rombach, Post-Gazette)

After a memorial Mass at Christ the King Chapel at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, mourners walked the mile to the house at 165 McDowell Ave. where Aaron Land, 20, of Philadelphia, and Brian Muha, 18, of Westerville, Ohio, were abducted.

There, they placed flowers on the porch, sang songs and offered prayers.

Land and Muha, both sophomores, had been attending summer classes at Franciscan University.

Their bodies were found Friday night about 1 1/2 miles west of the McDonald exit of Route 22 in Robinson, Washington County.

More than 100 state troopers, municipal police officers, firefighters and volunteers had searched for them for three days, after a friend with whom they were staying last Monday called police, reporting that he had heard sounds of a scuffle in his apartment.

When authorities arrived at the house, they found no sign of Land or Muha. Muha's car, registered to his mother, also was gone.

By Wednesday, Terrell Yarbrough, 18, of Pittsburgh, and Nathan D. Herring, 18, of Steubenville, had been arrested in the abduction and the theft of the vehicle, and Brandon M. Young, 16, of Steubenville, in the vehicle theft.

Ohio's Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Stephen M. Stern has said that homicide charges will be filed in the case, although authorities need to settle jurisdictional issues because the crime began in Ohio but the bodies were found in Pennsylvania.

"Right now, we're very satisfied with the way our case is going. We're ready to put this together," Stern said.

"One problem is that we don't have the the autopsy report or autopsy forensic information. But we're getting ready to present it to the grand jury."

Washington County District Attorney John Pettit said last night that the decision about jurisdiction would be made by the middle of the week. He said autopsy results were expected today from Coroner Timothy Warco.

Yarbrough and Herring are also believed to have been involved in a car theft and assault on Dennison Street in Squirrel Hill, also on Memorial Day.

In addition, Ohio authorities have said that the suspects in the shooting deaths of Land and Muha also are suspects in a Jefferson County drug investigation. Stern is expected to announce the results of that investigation at a press conference this afternoon.

Since Land and Muha were abducted from their off-campus apartment, people have been gathering to pray in the chapel of the Catholic liberal arts school, which educates many future priests and nuns.

Yesterday's Mass, though not a funeral, addressed the reality of their deaths.

The Rev. Michael Scanlan, Franciscan's president, spoke of resurrection. "As we expect to see Jesus again, we expect to see Brian and Aaron again," he said.

The Mass began early on a brilliant summer morning, with people entering the white interior of the chapel shortly before 8. The chapel, which holds 400 people, was filled to overflowing, and some waited outside on the church patio.

Light streamed in through stained glass windows while students sang to the accompaniment of a guitar.

Family members took seats in the front pews. Seventeen priests stood at the altar, where Scanlan and the Rev. Augustine Donegan, who ministers at Franciscan's sister campus in Austria, presided.

Contemporary songs mixed with centuries-old Latin liturgy.

"No other day in the year is more fitting for a memorial Mass than this day," the feast of Corpus Cristi, when Catholics celebrate the body and blood of Christ in the form of the eucharist, said Donegan.

"Why has God allowed us to be afflicted?" he asked.

Then he answered his question, saying the lesson was that people must turn their sights to the eucharist, which promises eternal life to believers.

"Everything [else] is passing away," Donegan said. "That is the one thing that is usually forgotten by most people. That which we have today, we will not have tomorrow."

To the families of the slain students, he said, "Our hearts go with you."

After the service, Scanlan announced that counseling would be available on campus and that sign-up sheets would be ready for those who planned to travel out of state on school-sponsored buses to attend the funerals.

Then about 150 people made the journey through suburban streets to 165 McDowell Ave., where relatives of Land and Muha waited on the porch and accepted flowers from the throng.

Maria Garabis of Columbus, Ohio, a recent Franciscan graduate, said she was present because she knew both Land and Muha.

"They had very pure hearts," she said. "I know they are in heaven."

"Brian and Aaron put smiles on everyone's faces," said Chad Wilson, 20, who attended St. Charles Preparatory School in Columbus with Muha and who was a business major with Land at Franciscan University.

"These guys held Christ in their hearts and exemplified everything we want to be. They lived what they preached. Every business class I'll have from now on would have been with Aaron, and now he won't be there. That's why it's such a tragedy. Two of the greatest guys got lifted off this campus. Who's going to put those smiles on our faces now?" Wilson asked after attending a Mass at the chapel on Saturday.

Chris Muha, 20, Brian's older brother and also a student at Franciscan, spoke in a trembling voice outside the chapel then.

"Brian was a bright spot in our lives," said Chris, like his brother a former football player at St. Charles Prep.

The last contact Brian Muha had with his mother was the day before he disappeared. He sent Rachael Muha a bouquet of flowers and a greeting card to say goodbye before he went off to summer classes at Franciscan.

Friends say that was characteristic of Muha.

"Brian was the nicest guy," Wilson said. "He had this gentleness around him. Everyone loved Brian. He was the most caring person. He'd do anything for people. He made time for everyone. As soon as you met him, you knew he was a great guy."

Muha was a running back on the St. Charles football team and also a member of the lacrosse team. Friends say he was also an outstanding student and was active in student government.

A biology major, he also did a commentary for the campus radio station.

Rick Ganim of Cleveland, an uncle who was also Brian's godfather, said the Catholic faith was a pillar of Muha's life.

He and Brian had twice made the pilgrimage to Medjugorje, Yugoslavia, to celebrate sightings of the Virgin Mary. Brian also trekked to Denver in 1993 to attend a Mass celebrated by Pope John Paul II.

Aaron Land moved from Evergreen, Colo., to the Overbrook section of Philadelphia during his senior year of high school.

He was an avid sports fan with a special affection for the Denver Broncos and Colorado Avalanche. He was also a member of the religious fraternity, the Prodigal Sons, at Franciscan University, where he was majoring in business with a minor in theology.

His mother, Kathleen O'Hara, lives with her mother, Edith, in Philadelphia. Land's father died seven years ago. He has a sister, Anna, 18, and a brother, Michael, 14.

"Aaron was never meant for this world," classmate Wilson said. "He was always so happy. He never once made a person sad. He never got upset."

Staff writer Johnna A. Pro contributed to this report.

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