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Slain NDSU student to be memorialized with basketball courts in his Minnesota hometown

The project in Sartell, Minnesota, will be a tribute to Tom Bearson, 18, whose 2014 homicide remains unsolved.

Tom Bearson is shown in an outdoor photo, smiling
Tom Bearson

SARTELL, Minn. — A North Dakota State University student whose mysterious 2014 death remains unsolved will be memorialized in a manner directly tied to his favorite pastime in his central Minnesota hometown.

The nonprofit Tom Bearson Foundation and the city of Sartell will build three high school regulation basketball courts in a city park there this spring.

One of the six hoops to be installed will be the very one Tom Bearson used so often at his home while growing up.

Artist's rendering of basketball courts in a park setting
Artist's rendering of the Tom Bearson Memorial Courts to be built in Sartell, Minnesota.
Tom Bearson Foundation

The foundation will commit $150,000 to the project, with $100,000 of that yet to be raised, according to its website.

The city of Sartell will invest approximately $75,000 in the project.

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Bearson, 18 and in school for only a month, disappeared in the early morning hours of Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014, after leaving a house party near the NDSU campus.

More on the Tom Bearson case
Shrouded in mystery, Tommy Bearson's death by homicidal violence in September 2014 is still being actively investigated, according to Moorhead police.

His body was found across the Red River in Moorhead in the parking lot of an RV business three days later. That night, NDSU students gathered on campus for a candlelight vigil for him.

The chief investigator with the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office in St. Paul said Bearson’s cause of death was asphyxia, or oxygen deprivation.

With manner of death being homicide, the investigator ruled out an accident, suicide or natural causes.

Last fall, nearing the seven-year mark since Bearson’s death, his father again made a plea to those responsible to identify themselves.

Greg Bearson told The Forum the only way those involved can overcome guilt is by coming forward with the truth.

“Until then, you will never find peace in your life,” he said at the time.

Tom Bearson was a standout high school basketball player in Sartell, where he graduated in 2013.

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At a Sartell City Council meeting on April 25, Greg Bearson gave a presentation about the planned Tom Bearson Memorial Courts.

He said after Tom’s death, the family kept asking, “Why Tom?”

It caused them to question the meaning of their lives, he told the council, and the people of Sartell were crucial for their healing.

Artist's rendering of the entrance to the courts
Artist's rendering of the Tom Bearson Memorial Courts to be built in Sartell, Minnesota.
Tom Bearson Foundation

Greg Bearson then listed things the family has learned, including that giving to others is nourishment to the soul and that “happiness can be found in the darkness if only one learns to turn on the light.”

In the nearly eight years since the homicide, the Tom Bearson Foundation has raised $130,000 for good deeds including scholarships, funds for the Sartell Community Center and an annual Tommy B. Night basketball fun fest at the high school.

The Tom Bearson Memorial Courts will be the foundation’s final project, Greg Bearson said, in order to shift focus to providing scholarships for Sartell students.

The three courts, to be built in Pinecone Central Park, will feature custom, high-quality tiles from a previous basketball court in Sartell.

Overhead view of one of the courts
Artist's rendering of the Tom Bearson Memorial Courts to be built in Sartell, Minnesota.
Tom Bearson Foundation

In addition to its financial commitment, the city will provide the land, donate the time and labor of city crews and oversee the project.

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Donations for the memorial project can be mailed to Tom Bearson Foundation, P.O. Box 351, Sartell, MN 56377.

Contributions can also be made via Paypal on the foundation’s website at www.tombearson.org/memorial-basketball-courts.

Sartell-St. Stephen Newsleader reporter Dennis Dalman contributed to this report.

Huebner is a 35+ year veteran of broadcast and print journalism in Fargo-Moorhead.
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