Search expands for missing NDSU student; no foul play suspected

FARGO - Looking south of campus and in the Red River, police here expanded the search Monday for an 18-year-old North Dakota State University freshman who has been missing since early Saturday.

Fargo firefighters search the Red River in north Fargo on Monday in search of a missing North Dakota State University student Tommy Bearson of Sartell, Minn. FORUM NEWS SERVICE/Carrie Snyder

FARGO – Looking south of campus and in the Red River, police here expanded the search Monday for an 18-year-old North Dakota State University freshman who has been missing since early Saturday.

Police dogs, officers and firefighters on Monday canvassed the area a few blocks south of the NDSU campus where Tommy Bearson of Sartell, Minn., was last seen, said Lt. Joel Vettel of the Fargo Police Department, which is leading the investigation of Bearson’s disappearance.

Bearson is 6 feet 1 inch tall, 155 pounds with blond hair and blue eyes. Vettel said he was last seen wearing a baseball hat, a blue Sartell High School track and field shirt and khaki pants.

At 5 p.m. Monday, Fargo police posted on the department’s Facebook page that, “Up to this point, we have actively searched areas we believe Thomas could have been.” Police also indicated the search area was expanded to the south of Eighth Avenue North.

Bearson was last seen about 3:40 a.m. Saturday in the 800 block of 14th Street North, Vettel said. He said police and firefighters were conducting a “methodical” grid-style search Monday from that area toward campus – where Bearson, a nursing student, lived in Reed Hall dormitory.


The area where Bearson was last seen is about six blocks south of his dorm. It was searched previously, but Monday’s canvassing marked the beginning of a more in-depth search, Vettel said.

Anyone with information is asked to call the NDSU Police Department at (701) 231-8998 or text-a-tip to (701) 526-6006.

Firefighters also began a cursory search of the Red River on Monday afternoon, though there’s no evidence to connect Bearson to the river – which is more than a mile to the east of campus.

“That’s just based on the lack of information we have,” Vettel said of the river search.

About 6 p.m., police said via social media that authorities had concluded a search of the river from 35th Avenue South to 12th Avenue North.

Vettel, the spokesman for the department, said there is no need yet for volunteers to assist in the search, but plans are being made to provide a contact point for possible volunteers if authorities decide that would be helpful.

“We want to make sure we bring him home,” he said.

Ride home missed


Bearson, a standout basketball player at Sartell High School, where he graduated last spring, was reported missing by his family at about 5:30 p.m. on Saturday after he failed to catch a ride from Fargo to see his family in Sartell. The plan had been to leave at noon, but he never showed up, Vettel said.

Jake Moryn, a freshman who lives across the hall from Bearson in the dorm, said the friends who were going to meet Bearson thought he might be not feeling well from the night before and “didn’t think anything of it” when he didn’t show.

They tried to call him, but he didn’t answer his phone, Moryn said. Moryn was not in this group, but his roommate was.

Bearson’s disappearance was first publicly reported by NDSU on Sunday night.

Authorities say they have no reason to think foul play is involved.

Witnesses have said Bearson was in good spirits before he went missing, said NDSU Police Chief William Vandal.

“We have information that he was in a good mood and everything seemed to be fine,” Vandal said at a Monday afternoon news conference with Vettel.

Despite an earlier report from NDSU that there was on-campus video showing Bearson before he went missing, Vandal said no such video has been found.


Authorities aren’t sure yet if alcohol was involved. Vandal said it was a possibility, but not confirmed.

Just over a week ago and not far from his dorm, Bearson was arrested for driving under the influence and minor in possession.

Early on the morning of Sept. 12, an officer pulled Bearson over for driving west in an eastbound lane in the 1700 block of 15th Avenue North, a few blocks from Reed Hall, according to court papers.

A breath test found that Bearson's blood-alcohol level was 0.18 percent. He failed one field sobriety test, and because of his poor balance at the time, two others were not given for safety reasons, court papers said.

He pleaded guilty to both misdemeanors later that day and was ordered to pay $1,075, serve 36 hours of community service and receive a chemical dependency evaluation, court papers said.

Bearson does not have a criminal record beyond that incident.

Seen after tweet

A fellow student told The Forum earlier Monday that he saw Bearson shortly before 4 a.m. Saturday, hours after the missing student tweeted that he was lost and needed a ride.


The last tweet from Bearson’s Twitter account was sent at 1:23 a.m. Saturday and reads, “dude it’s jake come pick us up.” It also reads, “We are so lost and we are going to die. Just get somebody.”

In an interview Monday, the recipient of the tweet, Cody Mead, said Bearson and “Jake” found a ride to Mead’s house in north Fargo after that tweet.

“Jake” refers to Mead’s roommate, Jake Wenzel, who went to high school with Bearson, Mead said. Mead met Bearson for the first time that night.

Mead said after Wenzel and Bearson arrived at his house in north Fargo, they “hung out for a while” before Bearson left between 3:40 and 4 a.m. That was the last time Mead saw Bearson before he heard that he was missing Saturday afternoon, he said.

Bearson’s cellphone is either off or out of battery, but police are working with his phone company to see if cellphone records can be used to help pin down the student’s whereabouts, Vettel said.

Police and other authorities have been “throwing a number of resources” at the investigation, interviewing witnesses and vetting tips from the public, Vettel said.

“That’s really law enforcement 101,” he said.

Officials have been in constant contact with Bearson’s family, who have been cooperative and supportive, Vettel said.


Social media abuzz

There was a “dull roar goin’ around campus” on Monday afternoon, NDSU junior Bryce Rohrich said.

Rohrich does not know Bearson personally, but said when he looked up NDSU on Twitter earlier in the day, “it was all him.”

“It’s all over social media,” senior Katy Varner added.

On Twitter and Facebook, #FindTom was emerging as the hashtag most were using to post messages about Bearson’s disappearance.

Some NDSU students said police officers visited their classes asking about Bearson. Police also sent a Code Red alert to about 450 phones asking property owners to look for any signs of Bearson.

Freshman Matt Snyder, who lives in the same dorm as Bearson, said there is an officer by the dorm’s volleyball court “almost 24-7.”

Many students who spoke with The Forum echoed Varner’s statement that “we don’t know much … we just know he’s gone.”


‘A really good guy’

It’s not clear if Bearson’s family came to Fargo as the search intensified Monday, but at least one friend rushed here to help.

Pat Fischer played basketball at Sartell High School with Bearson. When he heard his close friend was missing, he did what any friend would do: drop everything and join the search.

Fischer, 20, who now plays basketball at Bemidji State University, said he can’t imagine Bearson would hide from public view – especially in light of the concern surrounding his disappearance.

“I know Tom. If he had communication at all, he would try to reach out to someone,” Fischer said. “He’s a really good guy.

“It kind of just blows my mind that he’s gone like this.”

After hearing about Bearson’s disappearance Sunday, Fischer said he headed to Fargo to search for him. Fischer said he and other friends drove around Fargo until about 4 a.m. Monday, searching for people who might have seen Bearson.

Chris Lewis of Sauk Rapids coached Bearson’s AAU basketball team, the Minnesota Comets. Lewis described Bearson as a considerate kid who was the first to thank him for coaching the team after the season concluded.

“I know that his teammates are shaken,” Lewis said.

That includes Fischer.

“He’s been one of my best friends since I can remember,” Fischer said. “Everyone keep Tom and his friends and family in their prayers, and hope for the best.”

The St. Francis Xavier parish in Sartell is hosting a community prayer service for Bearson at 7 tonight. The student’s parents are members of the parish, and his mother teaches at the school.

The church is at 2nd St. N. in Sartell. All are welcome. People can also watch online at .

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