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Search expands for missing NDSU student, including campus and river

      

Police dogs, officers and firefighters on Monday afternoon began to canvass the area where Tommy Bearson, of Sartell, Minn., was last seen, said Lt. Joel Vettel of the Fargo Police Department, which is now heading the investigation of Bearson’s disappearance.

The police are keeping the public notified through their Facebook page, which said, as of 3:30 p.m. Monday, that police dogs searching near Bearson’s last known location “did not yield any additional leads.”

Police also distributed a CodeRED alert to about 450 phones asking property owners to notify authorities if they see any signs of Bearson.

Bearson was last seen about 3:40 a.m. Saturday in the 800 block of 14th Street North, Vettel said. He said a “methodical” grid-style search began Monday afternoon from that area toward campus – where Bearson, a nursing student, lived in Reed Hall dormitory. The area where Bearson was last seen is about six blocks south of his dorm. It was searched previously, but Monday’s canvassing marked the beginning of a more in-depth search, Vettel said.

Firefighters also began a cursory search of the Red River on Monday afternoon, though there’s no indication connecting Bearson to the river – which is more than a mile to the east of campus.

“That’s just based on the lack of information we have,” Vettel said of the boat search. 

Vettel, the spokesman for the department, said there is no need yet for volunteers to assist in the search, but plans are being made to provide a contact point for possible volunteers if authorities decide that would be helpful.

“We want to make sure we bring him home,” he said. 

Bearson, a standout basketball player at Sartell High School, where he graduated last spring, was reported missing by his family at about 5:30 p.m. on Saturday after he failed to catch a ride from Fargo to see his family in Sartell. The plan had been to leave at noon, but he never showed up, Vettel said.

Jake Moryn, a freshman who lives across the hall from Bearson in the dorm, said the friends who were going to meet Bearson thought he might be not feeling well from the night before and “didn’t think anything of it” when he didn’t show.

They tried to call him, but he didn’t answer his phone, Moryn said. Moryn was not in this group, but his roommate was.

Bearson’s disappearance was first publicly reported by NDSU on Sunday night.

Authorities say they have no reason to think foul play is involved. Witnesses have said Bearson was in good spirits before he went missing, said NDSU Police Chief William Vandal.

“We have information that he was in a good mood and everything seemed to be fine,” Vandal said at a Monday afternoon press conference with Vettel.

Despite an earlier report from NDSU that there was on-campus video showing Bearson before he went missing, Vandal said no such video has been found yet.

Authorities aren’t sure yet if alcohol was involved. Vandal said it was a possibility but not confirmed.

Bearson is 6 foot, 1 inch tall, 155 pounds with blond hair and blue eyes. Vettel said he was last seen wearing a baseball hat, a blue Sartell High School track and field shirt and khaki pants.

NDSU officials released two photographs of Bearson on Sunday.

A fellow student told The Forum earlier Monday that he saw Bearson shortly before 4 a.m. Saturday, hours after the missing student tweeted that he was lost and needed a ride.

In an interview Monday, the recipient of the tweet, Cody Mead, said Bearson and “Jake” found a ride to Mead’s house in north Fargo after that tweet.

“Jake” refers to Mead’s roommate, Jake Wenzel, who went to high school with Bearson, Mead said. Mead met Bearson for the first time that night.

Mead said after Wenzel and Bearson arrived at his house in north Fargo, they “hung out for a while” before Bearson left between 3:40 and 4 a.m. That was the last time Mead saw Bearson before he heard that he was missing Saturday afternoon, he said.

Bearson’s cellphone is either off or out of battery, but police are working with his phone company to see if cellphone records can be used to help pin down the student’s whereabouts, Vettel said.

Police and other authorities have been “throwing a number of resources” at the investigation, interviewing witness and vetting tips from the public, Vettel said.

“That’s really law enforcement 101,” he said.

Officials have been in constant contact with Bearson’s family, who have been cooperative and supportive, Vettel said.

Anyone with any information is asked to call the NDSU Police Department at (701) 231-8998 or text-a-tip to (701) 526-6006.

There was a “dull roar goin’ around campus” on Monday afternoon, NDSU junior Bryce Rohrich said.

Rohrich does not know Bearson personally but said when he looked up NDSU on Twitter earlier in the day, “it was all him.”

“It’s all over social media,” senior Katy Varner added.

On Twitter and Facebook, #FindTom was emerging as the hashtag most were using to post message about Bearson’s disappearance.

Many students who spoke with The Forum echoed Varner’s statement that “we don’t know much … we just know he’s gone.”

It’s not clear if Bearson’s family came to Fargo as the search intensified Monday, but at least one friend rushed here to help.

Pat Fischer played basketball at Sartell High School with Bearson. When he heard his close friend is missing, he did what any friend would do: drop everything and join the search.

Fischer, 20, who now plays basketball at Bemidji State University, said he can’t imagine Bearson would hide from public view – especially in light of the concern surrounding his disappearance.

“I know Tom. If he had communication at all, he would try to reach out to someone,” Fischer said. “He’s a really good guy.

“It kind of just blows my mind that he’s gone like this.”

After hearing about Bearson’s disappearance Sunday, Fischer said he headed to Fargo to search for him. Fischer said he and other friends drove around Fargo until about 4 a.m. Monday, searching for people who might have seen Bearson.

Chris Lewis of Sauk Rapids coached Bearson’s AAU basketball team, the Minnesota Comets. Lewis described Bearson as a considerate kid who was the first to thank him for coaching the team after the season concluded.

“I know that his teammates are shaken,” Lewis said.

That includes Fischer.

“He’s been one of my best friends since I can remember,” Fischer said. “Everyone keep Tom and his friends and family in their prayers, and hope for the best.”

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