Not a day passes that Brett Bertelson doesn’t think about Tom Bearson.
The sophomore studying pre-pharmarcy met Bearson in 8th grade in Sartell, Minnesota, and the two grew together on the basketball court, through rap music and video games and came to North Dakota State as the only guys from their graduating class.
But four weeks into the fall 2014 semester, Bearson, an 18-year-old freshman majoring in nursing, was murdered. And Bertelson lost his best friend.
But not his memory of him.
“I am reminded (of Tom) every day just by walking (on) campus, walking by his hall, or seeing the same blue Ford Fusion drive by, every little thing,” Bertelson said. “There is not one day that goes by that I do not think about the horrible thing that happened to him.”
One year ago
Bearson left his Reed Hall room for the last time on a Friday night, Sept. 19, 2014.
The freshman was last seen alive leaving a house on the 800 block of 14th Street North at 3:40 a.m., Sept. 20, 2014.
His body was found three days later in the Larry’s RV parking lot in Moorhead, Minnesota, following a community-wide search involving local police, K-9 units and search boats after Bearson didn’t meet friends for a ride back to Sartell that Saturday.
The Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled his cause of death as “homicidal violence.”
Now a year after Bearson’s death, the investigation into his murder continues, with Moorhead Police “still very much active in following leads and working this case,” said Moorhead Police Lt. Tory Jacobson.
“Even though we’re not in a position to say who are our suspects are or what a motive is, we know that this is a complete and thorough investigation with a lot of information,” he said.
Difficult and challenging
Despite the year in investigating Bearson’s murder, Jacobson said the case isn’t cold.
The investigation has “no timeline,” he said, and follows all leads and new information.
“We have a responsibility to look into all leads and put resources to the point where they are documented,” Jacobson said.
In February, police disseminated video and photos of a car of interest seen near the parking lot where Bearson’s body was found.
The car was later identified and ruled out of the investigation.
Few details have been released about the investigation.
“We have not disclosed a lot of specific details,” Jacobson said. “We don’t want to jeopardize the case with details.”
The investigation took another turn in late July when two Fargo police officers, two Moorhead police officers, a local FBI agent and a Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agent met with FBI behavioral analysts in West Virginia to discuss the case.
“They received the case file in advance, and this allowed our investigators to have uninterrupted brainstorming sessions as they reviewed the case,” Jacobson said.
The case, which Jacobson said has proven to be “difficult” and “challenging,” has been served by state and federal law enforcement, as well as many civilian experts, such as the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office and BCA forensics.
The investigation may be a year old, Jacobson said, but “once we have the break in the case that we all look forward to, and we’re able to shine a light on our suspect, the information we have will allow a brighter light to shine.”
Greg Bearson, Tom’s father, said he “had an epiphany in April,” and founded the organization to “give back to the community.”
The organization is dedicated to funding scholarships, promoting campus safety and increasing basketball participation.
“Tom loved all sports,” Greg Bearson said, “but his true love was basketball. He played basketball all his life.”
The organization’s first event was held Aug. 22, an inaugural golf outing in Sartell.
“It was absolutely amazing,” Greg Bearson said. “There were over 300 people who volunteered, participated or were at the dinner. We had to turn people away.”
Bertelson said he had a great time participating in his buddy’s memory.
“Coping with his death is not easy because he was such a good friend, but with this foundation, it has been easier because something positive is coming from his passing,” he said.
Samantha Nelson, a sophomore in pharmaceutical sciences, said even though she wasn’t close to Bearson, she coped with his death by remembering him.
“I still have memories of him from school, mostly him making people laugh,” she said, “and I never really realized how much someone you may not even talk to often can have an impact on you.”
In the year since his passing, Nelson said the close-knit community of Sartell acknowledged the anniversary, placing flowers and little basketballs at his grave.
“We cope by supporting each other and keeping his memory alive,” she said, “and believing that justice will be brought for Tom.”
Bertelson said he continues to honor Bearson’ memory through wearing a hat and bracelets emblazoned with his name, and occasionally tweeting #JusticeForTom.
The hashtag, Bertelson said, isn’t “necessarily needed,” but “just something me and my friends do to get the word out.”
Spreading the word about Bearson’s disappearance a year ago with #FindTom, Bertelson said #JusticeForTom is also about raising awareness.
That and finding the person or people responsible for Bearson’s murder.
“It is a very sad situation, and I don’t think you can ever be prepared for something like this,” he said.
Greg Bearson said his family is “confident there will be a resolution,” and added he is “pleased” with the investigation.
His son, he said, “was a special gift.”
“He had a passion for life,” Greg Bearson said, “and a kind and giving soul.”