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Clay sheriff: Jared Nilles was passenger on Amtrak train

At right holding paper, Jared Nilles' sister, Rachel Nilles-Cremer, reads a family statement as his parents, Ralph and Carolyn Nilles, and in back, brother Joel Nilles and his wife, Rachel, as well as Jake Cremer, Rachel's husband, gather on Tuesday in Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

FARGO - Authorities have confirmed that 27-year-old Jared Nilles of Fargo, whose body was found Monday along the railroad tracks between Glyndon and Hawley, Minn., was a passenger on an Amtrak train bound for Chicago, Clay County Sheriff Bill Bergquist said this morning.

The sheriff's office is waiting for preliminary autopsy results from Ramsey County to determine how Nilles died, he said.

Clay County investigators were en route to the Twin Cities today to meet with Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agents working on the case, Bergquist said. Authorities also are checking with Amtrak officials to determine whether the train had security cameras, he said.

"I don't know if we'll ever know exactly what happened unless somebody saw something," he said.

BNSF railway contacted the sheriff's office around 7 a.m. Monday after a train conductor spotted Nilles' body along the tracks near Buffalo River State Park.

Bergquist said he didn't know the exact departure and arrival times of the Amtrak train.

Bergquist said his office was contacted by BNSF Railway around 7 a.m. Monday after a train conductor spotted a possible body along the tracks east of Highway 9 near Buffalo River State Park. Deputies searched the area and found Nilles.

At the Fargo home of his parents, Ralph and Carolyn Nilles, Jared's oldest sibling, Rachel Nilles-Cremer, read a written statement Tuesday.

"Jared will always be remembered for his loving spirit, ambition and good nature," she said. "He is dearly loved, and will be missed by many."

Nilles was born July 26, 1984, and was the youngest of four children.

He attended Fargo South High School, where he was active in drama, soccer and hockey. He graduated from South in 2003 before studying screenwriting and film production at Minneapolis Community and Technical College.

After he graduated from college, he shot several short films in Fargo and Minneapolis, then concentrated on his performance career in Chicago, said longtime friend and local improv comic J.J. Gordon.

Gordon described Nilles as "a great kid" and "my best friend in the whole wide world." He said Nilles fell in love with improvisational theater after joining a troupe in high school.

In 2002, during the summer before his senior year, Nilles and friend J.J. Gordon ventured to Rutland, N.D., to work with Entertainment Unlimited, a children's theater program. A nephew of its co-founder, Ione Pherson, had graduated with Gordon that year.

Nilles and Gordon held auditions in the small town on a Sunday night, and 33 kids showed up.

"And they were overwhelmed, wondering what they had gotten themselves into," Pherson said.

But the twosome didn't turn tail and run. In fact, they returned the following four summers.

"They pulled out all the stops," Pherson said. "This is a sad little town today, because the kids in those five years that knew those two are really grieving because they did so much good for those kids."

Nilles and Gordon pulled reclusive kids into the program, having them work on the set or perform other duties to get them involved "just because they knew they needed it," Pherson said.

"I said to the guys, I go, 'How do you guys have all that insight?' And they said, 'We were those kids,'" she said.

Nilles introduced his love of filmmaking into the theater program, having the kids shoot short films around town and incorporate them into the plot of the play, Pherson said.

"They just did such fun, out-of-the-box things," she said.

Rutland embraced Nilles and Gordon during the three weeks each summer they became residents, Pherson said.

"They just became part of the fabric of this community, and they always will be," she said.

Gordon said Nilles' immediate family was in shock following news of his death but was receiving a lot of support from extended family and close friends. Tuesday afternoon, visitors showed up at the Nilles' gold rambler to bring food and console the family.

Gordon said he anticipated that his friend's service would be well-attended. "He had a lot of friends," he said.

A sharing of memories and prayer service will begin at 7 p.m. Friday at Boulger Funeral Home in Fargo, with a visitation beginning at 5 p.m. The funeral will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at Atonement Lutheran Church in Fargo.

Staff writer Tammy Swift contributed to this report.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528