Body found confirmed to be missing NDSU freshman

MOORHEAD, Minn. - A body found here Tuesday morning has been positively identified as a missing North Dakota State University student, a tragic turn in a search that ended miles away from the area near NDSU's campus where police had thought he wa...

Authorities monitor Larry’s RV Sales & Services in Moorhead, Minn. where a body was found on Tuesday, September 23, 2014. FORUM NEWS SERVICE/Carrie Snyder

MOORHEAD, Minn. – A body found here Tuesday morning has been positively identified as a missing North Dakota State University student, a tragic turn in a search that ended miles away from the area near NDSU’s campus where police had thought he was last seen.

A Fargo police officer searching for 18-year-old Thomas Bearson found his body about 11:20 a.m. on the ground on the lot of Larry’s RV Sales in Moorhead near 29th Street and 24th Avenue South by Sam’s Club, said Lt. Tory Jacobson, a spokesman for Moorhead police.

The body has been transported to the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office, according to a release Tuesday night from Moorhead police.

The news prompted an outpouring of grief on both the NDSU campus and in Bearson’s hometown of Sartell, Minn., just north of St. Cloud. Vigils were held in both Fargo and Sartell on Tuesday night for Bearson, a well-liked standout basketball player at Sartell High School who had only been on the NDSU campus for a few weeks.

“Tom was the life of the party. Everybody liked Tom,” said Chris Lewis of Sauk Rapids, Minn., who coached Bearson’s AAU basketball team.


Search heads east

Bearson disappeared early Saturday, a missing person case that prompted a widespread but unsuccessful search Monday of the area south of the NDSU campus in north Fargo and the Red River.

On Monday, Fargo police said Bearson was last seen at about 3:40 a.m. Saturday in the 800 block of 14th Street North, about six blocks south of his dormitory room on campus in Reed Hall. The area where the body was found Tuesday is more than a five-mile walk from there.

Lt. Joel Vettel, a spokesman for Fargo police, said cellphone tracking, tips and proximity to his last known location drew the search for Bearson to the largely industrial area of south Moorhead.

When asked if the site just south of campus remained Bearson’s last known location, Vettel said he could not comment on that and referred questions to Moorhead police.

Jacobson said he could not comment on Bearson’s last known location.

He also declined to say if foul play is suspected or how the body could have ended up at the RV lot, where an area was taped off and being guarded by police on Tuesday.

Jacobson said the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension was expected to bring a mobile crime lab to the scene by Tuesday evening to help with processing evidence in the death investigation.


The Moorhead Police Department and Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension will take the lead on the investigation, said Ternes, who added there is no information indicating the public is at risk.

“We’re going to do a complete investigation without ruling out anything,” Jacobson said.

Ternes said conclusions could be “several days if not weeks” away.

Ternes added that after talking with Moorhead Police Chief David Ebinger, he believed Minnesota authorities would “exhaust all of their resources to come to conclusions.”

Bearson’s family was notified of the discovery. Ternes said he was on the phone with them when he learned of the body being found and immediately relayed that information.

At a Tuesday afternoon news conference, NDSU President Dean Bresciani urged the community to avoid imagining what might have happened before police have a chance to investigate.

“Conversations like that can be exceptionally painful to family members that are grieving over this,” he said.

‘A great young man’


Bearson was a four-year letter-winner on his high school basketball team and was described as a competitive, naturally gifted athlete to whom the team turned when they needed a big play.

In the area surrounding his hometown of Sartell, news spread fast after the press conference.

“I got a text from a local high school coach who got it from his colleague who got it from a kid,” Lewis said Tuesday afternoon.

Lewis said Bearson was the kind of kid you’d want to date your daughter.

“We are all going to live in an extremely grieving community. He was a great young man,” he said.

Even those who did not know Bearson felt the tragedy of his death on Tuesday afternoon.

“It’s overall just been a really sad environment, whether you knew him or not,” said NDSU junior Amy Peick. “We’re one community, so it doesn’t just affect the people who knew him; it affects everybody.”

For students from small towns, the experience felt similar to losses that had affected their entire communities at home, NDSU junior Tracey Dillon said.


Neither Peick nor Dillon knew Bearson, but they planned to wear yellow in his honor on Wednesday – an effort that was initiated on Facebook.

Students expressed grief and support on social media during the search for Bearson and in the aftermath of Tuesday’s discovery.

Hours before the 1 p.m. announcement that a body had been found, many NDSU students changed their profile photos to pictures of Bearson, so more people would see his face. Later in the day, the #FindTom hashtag that had emerged on social media morphed into #RIPTom.

A member of the Sartell High School volleyball team tweeted that they would be taking a moment of silence at their game Tuesday night for the Bearson family.

And as the news began to spread, many NDSU students regretted they hadn’t gotten to know Bearson, freshman Brittany Bloch said.

“I’ve talked to a lot of students who didn’t know Thomas but knew a lot of his friends or had seen him in a few classes,” she said. They “realized that they had crossed paths with this young man at one point or another and now, suddenly, he’s gone. They won’t do that again.”

Archie Ingersoll and the St. Cloud (Minn.) Times contributed to this report.

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