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Tom Bearson's family still hopeful for justice in unsolved homicide

Sept. 20, 2017, will mark the three-year anniversary of when Tom Bearson was last seen alive. The death of the North Dakota State University freshman was ruled a homicide, and the case remains unsolved. Submitted photo.1 / 3
On Saturday, July 15, hundreds gathered in Sartell, Minn., for the third annual Tom Bearson Foundation memorial golf outing. The course flags displayed “TB1” – honoring Tom’s No. 1 basketball jersey. Special to Forum News Service 2 / 3
“He was one hell of a basketball player. He was great at every sport,” said Tom Bearson's father, Greg Bearson. “But he was a better person than he was an athlete.” Special to Forum News Service 3 / 3

MOORHEAD —— In the nearly three-year wait for justice, Greg Bearson said it's all about how you act while practicing patience.

"The hardest thing I've had to do is be patient. I've learned so much waiting for the answers to come up, which I know they will," he said. "Every day I get up wondering, 'What happened to my son?' I think about it 20 times a day, sometimes 100 times a day."

Bearson, his wife, Debbie, and daughter Maddie stay up to date on any new developments in the unsolved homicide involving their son and brother, Tom Bearson, who would be 21 years old today.

This September will mark the third anniversary of Bearson's death that stunned the communities of his hometown, Sartell, Minn., and here in Fargo-Moorhead where he was attending North Dakota State University as a first-year nursing student.

Bearson, affectionately known as Tommy, was a Bison for just four weeks before the 18-year-old went missing.

Three days later, his body was found in an RV lot in Moorhead. Police said he was the victim of "homicidal violence." His killer remains at large.

"This is a crime that has affected not just his family, it affects the whole community," said Moorhead Police Lt. Tory Jacobson. "We do greatly care for our victim as well as the family. We understand the difficult situation it is without having justice served."

Until the day when the answers to so many questions come to light, the Bearsons stay busy turning all the unimaginable pain into something positive. The loss of their only son has brought with it many tough lessons, but ultimately a sense of purpose.

The Tom Bearson Foundation was established about seven months after his death. Following an epiphany one evening, Bearson brought the idea to Debbie who didn't doubt it was the right direction.

On Saturday, July 15, hundreds gathered in Sartell for the third annual Tom Bearson Foundation memorial golf outing. There, the course flags displayed "TB1" — honoring Tom's No. 1 basketball jersey — and over 130 players teed off for Bearson, who loved competing and teamwork.

"He was one hell of a basketball player. He was great at every sport," Greg Bearson said. "But he was a better person than he was an athlete."

Since the foundation's inception, Bearson said more than $130,000 has been raised for scholarships and youth programming. Last year's golf outing alone brought in $25,000.

Tom Bearson's best friend, 22-year-old Patrick Fischer, said Bearson was one of the only reasons he came home and after he died, it became more difficult to make the drive back to Sartell. But the tournament makes the trip from Duluth, Minn., where he attends college, much easier.

"It's a super exciting time for people to come together as one and share good memories of Tom," Fischer said.

'How the basketball bounces'

Lt. Jacobson said the Bearson case is still very much an active investigation.

To avoid compromising the work of the agencies involved in the case — Moorhead, Fargo and NDSU police departments, Ramsey County Medical Examiner's Office, Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and FBI — he said the growing case file remains confidential.

Bearson's left white Nike Air Jordan and silver iPhone 5 are still missing. Jacobson would not disclose any information regarding potential suspects or motives.

Despite all the unknowns, Greg Bearson said law enforcement officials have been keeping them up to speed with the investigation while also being supportive and sensitive to his family.

"I can call them any time of day, any time of night, and they will talk to me. We have a good working relationship, and they are more than gracious to us," he said of officials working the case. "We're pleased and confident with what they're doing, and hopeful."

Fischer said the faintest of sounds, like a laugh or "how the basketball bounces," can trigger memories of his best friend. Every day Fischer wears Bearson's gold chain, a memorial bracelet and the words "gone but never forgotten" are inscribed on his bicep.

The Bearsons, when they aren't working on the foundation or speaking with detectives, are reflecting on "what Tom's life meant while he was here and what it means now that he's gone," his father said.

"The most beautiful part of all of this is our son didn't die in vain," he said. "There's a lot of good that came out of his life."

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