A Minnesota college student, away from home for just a month, murdered. Tuesday night on Valley News Live, Tom Bearson's parents are speaking out for the first time about their son's mysterious death.
Police found the body of North Dakota State University student three days after the 18-year-old went missing last fall, but they have not found his killer. WCCO's Liz Collin met the Bearsons and went to Fargo-Moorhead to talk with police about the missing clues that could crack this case.
“He was just a happy kid. He absolutely was,” his mom, Debbie Bearson said. Tom was a charmer from day one. First for his good looks and then for his words. “You’d get lost in those blue eyes. He got away with things because of those blue eyes,” Debbie said with a laugh. “He was a smooth talker.”
Tom Bearson spent his life just a few miles from St. Cloud in Sartell, Minnesota. Basketball would always occupy much of his time.
“Didn’t matter what the weather was, he was always out there,” Tom’s dad, Greg Bearson, said.
As a skilled ball handler, Tom helped lead the Sartell Sabres to their very first state tournament in his junior year. He scored 1,000 career points before graduating this past spring. But Tom was ready to leave the sport he loved behind, starting at North Dakota State University’s nursing program in Fargo this past fall.
“It’s a time for a freshman college student to kind of learn a lot of things about themselves,” his father said.
Tom’s parents knew he had been drinking at school. He came home one weekend pledging to be better.
“It was a wonderful weekend we had with him,” Greg Bearson said. “We’re proud of that. We didn’t know what was going to happen five days later.”
But the following Saturday morning, Tom wasn’t answering his parent’s text messages. “I became alarmed early on. Something wasn’t right,” Greg Bearson said.
Calls to campus, friends and Tom’s roommate got them nowhere. They climbed into their car for the three-hour drive to Fargo, with a fear impossible to imagine. “Those three days looking for him were the hardest days of our lives,” Greg said. Police began piecing together where Tom was last seen.
Lt. Tory Jacobson is from the Moorhead Police Department.
“The longer he was reported missing, the more serious this became,” Jacobson said. Investigators now know Tom left his dorm room around 10 p.m. that Friday. People last saw him walk away alone from a house party just six blocks from there at 3:30 a.m. Three days after Tom went missing on September 23 and six miles from that house party, a police officer found his body. His wallet was still on him.
“This is as tragic as it gets,” Jacobson said. He was lying on the grass inside a short fence surrounding an RV dealer in Moorhead.
It was the two things that Tom didn’t have with him that, months later, police still believe may provide the biggest lead of all.
“The reason why we immediately identified those items is because we expected to find them,” Lt. Jacobson said. One of Tom’s size 9.5 Nikes and his silver-colored iPhone 5 are still missing. A medical examiner has said his death is a homicide but how he died won’t be released until testing is complete.
“I’ve been asked if this is a cold case now that four months have passed, and it’s far from that,” Jacobson said.
Police don’t have a motive, but they have designated a team of investigators to the case, conducting hundreds of interviews so far. Investigators are still staying in touch with Tom’s family in Sartell, hoping to make the call with answers to them soon. “The sooner the better,” Jacobson said.
The days are still hard for Tom’s family. His sister, Maddie, two years older, is in college herself. “It’s a lot easier to picture where he is now,” Maddie Bearson said. “Nobody’s going to hurt him there. I like to remember the funny stuff and the good times.”
They have all been humbled by the support they’ve been given. On Tom’s 19th birthday, just two weeks ago, friends lined their driveway and Tom’s basketball hoop with luminaries. “It was so heartwarming for us to look out and see that,” Greg Bearson said.
Now, Greg and Debbie want all college students to learn from what happened to Tom that safety should always be taken seriously.
Robbed of the chance to see the man their son would have grown to be, Debbie Bearson is reminded of the message all parents should hear. “Hug your kids because you don’t know if you don’t get to do it again,” she said.
Tom's family told Liz they will soon honor his life with a memorial in Sartell. The Ramsey County Medical Examiner's office is handling the medical tests in this case. The office says it will be up to police to decide what information to release once they're finished. Toxicology tests can take up to six months.