FBI involved in investigation of slain student found in Moorhead

FARGO - The killing of 18-year-old Thomas Bearson is believed to be the first "incident of this nature" at North Dakota State University, where Bearson was a freshman, a university official said in a statement Friday.

FARGO – The killing of 18-year-old Thomas Bearson is believed to be the first “incident of this nature” at North Dakota State University, where Bearson was a freshman, a university official said in a statement Friday.

It is certainly the first in more than 30 years, according to the statement from Ray Boyer, director of NDSU Police.

Bearson’s body was found Tuesday morning on the lot of Larry’s RV Sales, near 29th Street and 24th Avenue South, by Sam’s Club, in south Moorhead. The initial results of an autopsy released Thursday found his death was the result of homicidal violence.

Police have said they do not have any suspects yet in the slaying, nor have they specified what sort of violence killed Bearson.

Investigators are seeking help in finding Bearson’s left shoe – a white Nike Air Jordan, size 9½. The shoe was missing from Bearson’s body when he was found dead. They are also looking for his cellphone, a silver-colored iPhone 5.


Lt. Tory Jacobson said Friday that neither item has been found. One phone was turned over to police, but it wasn’t Bearson’s, he said.

Police in both Moorhead and Fargo have been investigating, as well as state agents form the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. FBI agents are also helping with the investigation, said Moorhead police Sgt. Thad Stafford.

The FBI has been assisting since the investigation’s start, Stafford said, and it often participates in cases that could involve federal jurisdiction, such as those that cross state lines.

Though his body was found in Moorhead, Bearson was last seen just south of the NDSU campus at a residence at about 3:40 a.m. Saturday, police have said.

Boyer said in his statement that NDSU is committed to student safety.

“NDSU has 17 police officers and two public safety officers who patrol and secure buildings on the main campus and the downtown facilities 24 hours a day,” he said.

Boyer suggested in the statement that students should travel in groups both on and off campus. Counseling services are available for students through the NDSU Student Counseling Center and for employees through the Village Employee Assistance Program, he said.

“Our continued thoughts and prayers go out to the family, friends and campus community during this time of grieving on the loss of Thomas Bearson,” Boyer added in the statement.


While the Bearson case might be the first instance of an NDSU student being killed, at least two other North Dakota college students have been murder victims in recent memory.

In 2003, University of North Dakota student Dru Sjodin was kidnapped, raped and murdered by high-risk sex offender Alfonso Rodriguez. He was convicted in federal court in 2006 and sentenced to execution. His death penalty is still being appealed in federal court.

In 2006, Valley City State University student Mindy Morgenstern was murdered in 2006 by Moe Gibbs, a former Barnes County jailer now serving a life term in state prison.

NDSU students also received an email Friday from the student body president and vice president, urging them not to “speculate on social media during the investigation.”

Like Boyer, President Sarah Russell and Vice President Hilary Haugeberg encouraged students to take advantage of counseling services or to rely on professional staff in on-campus housing, such as resident assistants, during “times of stress.”

“We are the Bison Family, and we are all here to support and look out for each other,” it said.

Russell and Haugeberg noted that in this year’s annual safety walk on campus – which involves university police, sexual assault advocates, student government officials and others – all of the participants “were very pleased with the visibility on campus at night.”

“Overall, we feel campus is very safe, secure, and offers numerous resources to students in times of need,” the student government leaders said in their statement.


Funeral services for Bearson have been scheduled for Monday. Mass of Christian Burial will take place at 11 a.m. at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Sartell.

Visitation will be from 3-8 p.m. Sunday and after 9:30 a.m. Monday at the gathering space at the church.


By Grace Lyden, Forum News Service

Thomas Bearson

What To Read Next
Get Local