Tears fell with the leaves this first week of autumn.
Missing since Saturday, the body of North Dakota State freshman Thomas Bearson was found Tuesday morning in south Moorhead.
“The physical description and the clothing description of that deceased person leads us to believe that it is in fact our missing person, Thomas Bearson,” Fargo Police Chief Keith Ternes said in a press conference Tuesday afternoon.
Ternes said it was too early to tell if foul play was the case in the body’s death, but there is not a reason to believe the public is in danger.
Ternes was informing the family of the day’s search when he received word a body had been discovered.
“Obviously, the campus and a tight-knit, civic community like ours — this sort of thing is traumatic for everyone involved,” NDSU President Dean Bresciani said at the conference.
“We had to shift from hope to support,” said Amy Nash, a student government spokeswoman.
A campus mourns
Hundreds of NDSU students, faculty and community members gathered to remember Bearson at a candlelight vigil Tuesday night at the Babbling Brook.
A separate service was held the same evening at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Sartell, Minn., Bearson’s home parish.
Candles were handed out as the NDSU Songwriters Guild accompanied the event with music.
“We have each other to lean on,” Student Body President Sarah Russell said before opening the floor to the gathering to share their thoughts.
Many who didn’t know Bearson still spoke about the impact he had on their lives.
Conner Swanson, an NDSU junior, asked attendants to raise their hand if they did not know Bearson.
The majority of the gatherings’ hands rose.
Lucas Paper asked the gathering to take out their phones and message their family and friends over social media a note of love, uniting their messages with “#IKnowTom.”
We all knew Tom, Paper said, even if we didn’t.
Samantha Nelson did.
“He was one of those guys who always made you laugh,” said Nelson, an NDSU freshman. She knew Bearson since seventh grade.
“When you talked to him, you felt like a friend,” she said.
Freshman Rachel Johnson knew Bearson from high school as well.
She said the support the Bison community showed was great.
“He wouldn’t want everyone to hold up their lives for him; I feel like he’d want everyone to keep laughing,” she said.
Dan Heath, the Lutheran campus pastor, said many people circled behind the amphitheater could not hear what was being said by speakers, “but that didn’t matter.”
What mattered, Heath said, “is that we were all here together.”
Aaron Weber, NDSU student government’s governmental relations commissioner, said the event was put on to let students know the campus was there for them.
“What’s important is for the campus to heal, ” Weber said.
Haley Johnson, assistant executive commissioner of public relations, also thought the vigil was important.
“It gives students a chance to grieve,” Johnson said. “This is a hard time for everybody, whether you knew him or not.”
A woman who lives in the neighborhood said she might have been one of the oldest attendants at the vigil, but it did not matter.
“To see all of you young people out here … I believe your generation will save the world,” she said. “I just want to thank you. You have made a strong statement, and I’ll never forget it.”
Bresciani hopes campus and community members will be respectful of the grieving family.
Bresciani sent his condolences to the family in a statement.
“We all mourn the loss of such a promising, well-regarded young man,” the statement concluded.
Bearson’s family released a statement to the public regarding their family’s loss.
“Words cannot express our pain for the lost of our son, Tom,” the statement said, “and our gratitude for your outpouring of prayers, love and support for our family.
“If possible, please reach over and hug your children for us.”
The Fargo Police Department took over the case due to their resources compared to University Police, Fargo Lt. Joel Vettel said at Monday afternoon’s press conference. With the switch of departments came an expansion of search area, including areas in Moorhead.
A missing persons report was filed Monday, Vettel said.
Bearson, a freshman studying nursing, was last seen before 4 a.m. near the 800 block of 14th Street North leaving a friend’s house.
The Fargo PD had been using K-9 units and foot officers.
The Fargo Fire Department also sent out search boats on the Red River for a cursory search Monday, not finding anything from 35th Avenue South to 12th Avenue North.
Vettel could not confirm whether alcohol was a factor.
Around 450 phones were also contacted by the Fargo PD’s codeRED system Monday, informing citizens within the search area of the missing student.
Attempts to contact Bearson via cell phone failed; Vettel said the Fargo PD was in contact with Bearson’s cell phone company.
Timothy Alvarez, the NDSU vice president for student affairs, said Sunday night the university was looking into surveillance footage on campus, but Vettel said he could not confirm anything had been found on tape.
Fargo police took to social media to keep the community updated.
“Fargo Fire and Police have concluded their foot search of pertinent areas,” a Facebook status posted by Fargo PD around 8 p.m. Monday read. “We continue to follow up leads as they develop.”
On Monday, Fargo police encouraged all city property owners in another Facebook post to check their respective buildings.
A welfare check was completed Saturday night after Bearson’s family contacted University Police.
Bearson was to leave with a group of classmates for Sartell, Minn., around noon Saturday.
A tweet was sent out at 1:23 a.m. Saturday from Bearson’s account.
“We are so lost and we are going to die,” the tweet reads. “Just get somebody.”
Mead clarified on his own Twitter account Sunday that Tom and his friend made it back safely to Mead’s house.
Area police will transition from searching for Bearson to a death investigation conducted by Minnesota authorities in Moorhead.
Bearson’s body was sent to the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office for further examination.
Students are encouraged to use the NDSU Counseling Center if they are struggling to cope.