by Dennis Dalman
(Editor’s note: Information for this story was obtained from a number of sources: The Fargo Forum, the Grand Forks Herald, Internet videos of press conferences in Fargo, Facebook and Twitter.)
The search for Thomas Gregory Bearson, the North Dakota State University student from Sartell who was reported missing Sept. 21 by his family, ended tragically Tuesday morning when his body was found in Moorhead.
Fargo Police Chief Keith Ternes announced the grim news during a press conference Tuesday afternoon.
Ternes said that at 11:20 a.m., 20 minutes after a search began in south Moorhead, searchers found a body lying in an outdoor area near Larry’s RV Sales and Services just north of a Menard’s store on 24th Avenue S. Investigators said the deceased man was wearing the same clothes Bearson was wearing at the time of his disappearance.
The cause of his death is unknown. The Moorhead Police Department and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension will intensify the investigation to determine cause of death and to discover if foul play may have been involved.
Before news of his death was announced, a prayer service had been scheduled at St. Francis Xavier Church in Sartell. By Tuesday afternoon, however, after people learned the devastating news, the prayer service had become a meeting of shared grief (see related story).
A candlelight vigil was held Tuesday night in Bearson’s memory by students on the NDSU campus.
The students at Sartell High School have been notified, and Superintendent Jeff Schwiebert said grief counseling will be offered to students who might need it. In the meantime, family and friends are mourning the loss of Bearson to a shocking, tragic death.
The son of Deb and Greg Bearson of Sartell, Bearson, 18, was a student studying nursing at NDSU in Fargo. He is a 2014 graduate of Sartell High School, where he was an outstanding basketball player.
The young man’s disappearance was a complete mystery to all who knew him. All that was known until the shocking discovery Tuesday morning was that Bearson was reportedly last seen in Fargo shortly before 4 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 20. Campus police and the Fargo Police Department held a series of press conferences seeking any information about Bearson’s whereabouts.
The area where he was last seen (the 800 block of 14th St. N. in Fargo, a half mile from his dormitory) has been thoroughly searched by police and search dogs, but not a single clue has been discovered.
Bearson was living in Reed Hall on the NDSU campus. In the hours before his disappearance, he and one of his high-school friends, Jake Wenzel, who is also an NDSU student, were visiting another student, Cody Mead, at his residence in north Fargo. Mead told police Bearson left his place sometime after 3:30 a.m.
The last communication from his cell phone was to Mead at 1:32 a.m. The message, apparently typed by Wenzel, stated: “dude its jake come pick us up. We are so lost and we are going to die. Just get somebody.”
At first, police and others were puzzled by that seemingly sinister message. But later, Mead told them Bearson and Wenzel showed up at his residence after that 1:32 a.m. message was sent and stayed until 3:30 a.m.
As soon as the news was announced that Bearson had gone missing, friends and acquaintances began putting messages on Twitter and Facebook. One good friend and fellow basketball player from his high school days, Pat Fischer, drove to Fargo where he and other friends of Bearson drove for many hours through Fargo streets, in hope of spotting their friend or finding a clue.
Fischer said it was totally out of character for Bearson not to communicate with family and friends, especially during a crisis like this.
Bearson’s family notified police Sunday because they were concerned he did not show up to visit his family that day, as expected. He told the family he would “catch a ride” from Fargo and leave about noon for the trip to Sartell. By 5:30 p.m. Sunday, he had not arrived, which alarmed the family.
NDSU Police Chief William Vandal had earlier said in a press conference that there is so far no reason to suspect foul play and that, according to people who interacted with Bearson in the days and hours before his disappearance, he seemed to be in very good spirits. Authorities also said they do not know if alcohol was involved with Bearson’s disappearance.
Bearson is 6 feet 2 inches, 155 pounds, with blond hair and blue eyes. He was last seen wearing a blue baseball cap, khaki pants and a blue Sartell High School track-and-field shirt.
The following are some of the tweets posted by Bearson’s friends and acquaintances in the first two days after his disappearance:
“My prayers go out to Tom’s family. Hopefully he’ll be found.”
“I’m constantly checking my phone every five seconds.”
“My heart is truly hurting for Tom Bearson, his family and friends. I’m praying and thinking about it every second of my day.”
“Once a (Sartell) Sabre, always a Sabre. Find Tom!”
“There are hearts of Sabres all over this state that are praying for you. Thinking of you, Tommy, and all your loved ones.”
Thomas Gregory Bearson, 18, who had been reported as missing in Fargo since last Saturday, was found deceased Tuesday morning in an outdoor area in south Moorhead.