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Investigation into death of NDSU student Bearson active, but killing remains a mystery

MOORHEAD, Minn. - The killing of an 18-year-old North Dakota State University student here nearly three weeks ago remains a mystery, police say. The investigation into the death of Thomas Bearson is "very active," but officers have "no particular...

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Thomas Bearson


MOORHEAD, Minn. – The killing of an 18-year-old North Dakota State University student here nearly three weeks ago remains a mystery, police say.

The investigation into the death of Thomas Bearson is “very active,” but officers have “no particular information on a motive or who’s responsible,” Lt. Tory Jacobson, a spokesman for Moorhead police, said Friday.

Bearson, a standout high school basketball player in his hometown of Sartell, Minn., had only been at NDSU about a month before he went missing on Sept. 20. He was last seen at 3:40 a.m. leaving a residence just south of campus, where he lived in a residence hall.


His body was found three days later more than five miles away in Moorhead, lying on the ground in the sales lot of Larry’s RV Sales – an RV dealership in an industrial area of Moorhead.

The initial autopsy report from the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office said Bearson died as a result of “homicidal violence,” though police declined to disclose the nature of that violence.

Officers continue to conduct interviews, follow tips and “collect items” that may or may not end up being relevant to the case, Jacobson said.

“Ultimately, what they’re doing is collecting a lot of information” to try to “reveal inconsistencies or something suspicious,” he said.

Police still have not found Bearson’s missing left sneaker, a size 9½ white Nike Air Jordan, or silver iPhone 5, neither of which were in the vicinity of Bearson’s body. More than a dozen officers searched the area without finding the shoe or phone, Jacobson said.

Other items have been sent to forensic labs for DNA checking, and investigators have been following up on “various rumors” to see if they have any validity, Jacobson said. They’re also looking into tips heard “second or thirdhand on Facebook.”

Jacobson said a final autopsy report will not be available for weeks. The final autopsy results will include toxicology testing, which will determine if Bearson was intoxicated or otherwise impaired.

The Fargo Police Department, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the FBI are also investigating the killing, though the Moorhead Police Department is the lead agency on the investigation.


Fargo police Lt. Joel Vettel said his department had two officers working as leads on the case and “numerous others” also working on different pieces.

“We’re still very actively assisting them in the course of the investigation,” Vettel said.

Moorhead’s police force has eight detectives, four who typically work on drug investigations, and four who work on violent crimes and property crimes.

Jacobson said “a number of investigators” are working on the Bearson case.

He said that at one point or another, all eight of the department’s detectives have worked on the investigation. He also said the case had caused some to work overtime.

“In hours, we probably have a number of investigators who’ve worked on it full time,” he said, adding that many had been working “long days.”

Jacobson said police received “great cooperation from members of our community” who have called with information about Bearson’s “associates and interests.”

Police will continue communicating with the public as the investigation continues, he said. “If there’s additional information concerning public safety, we’d be forthright with that.”


Bearson’s family continues to be updated on the investigation, he said.

Jacobson suggested several safety precautions for students, including: Tell people where you anticipate being, travel with others, especially when consuming alcohol, and avoid risky behaviors.

Jacobson stressed that Fargo-Moorhead is “in general a pretty safe” area.

“All communities have tragic things that happen,” he said.

A couple of individuals have started tweeting at national media, such as CNN, NBC, Nancy Grace and the CBS show “48 Hours,” to ask for their help in the investigation.

Police ask anyone with information related to the investigation to call the Red River Regional Dispatch Center at (701) 451-7660.

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