NDSU students feel safe despite high-profile crimes in recent years
FARGO — North Dakota State University sophomore Anna Ingersoll said she was a junior at Fargo Davies High School when NDSU freshman Tom Bearson was killed — a tragedy that marks its three-year anniversary today.
"I was really scared that happened in Fargo. And the fact that it's still unsolved, it just baffles me," Ingersoll said. "But it didn't deter me from going to NDSU."
Bearson's unsolved homicide is one of several high-profile cases surrounding NDSU in the past several years. Just this month, junior Isaiah Smith lost more than half his teeth and suffered severe facial damage in an altercation Sept. 2, and 17-year-old Devin Delaney, of Burnsville, Minn., died of unknown causes over the weekend while visiting a friend in an NDSU dorm.
Blocks away from campus, Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind was eight months pregnant when she went missing from her north Fargo apartment last month. Her body was later found in the Red River, and two neighbors were charged with conspiring to murder her and take her baby.
Months following Bearson's homicide in 2014, three NDSU students were held at knifepoint in an off-campus apartment — two were sexually assaulted and one narrowly escaped.
Despite these cases, a 2016 student survey, the most recent one available, found that 75 percent of students agreed or strongly agreed that NDSU is a safe and secure campus.
"Fargo's not a dangerous place," said student body president Mason Wenzel. "Safety should be a priority at all times. Isolated incidents don't define what we are as a community, and I think that's something students need to acknowledge."
NDSU senior Kyle Hardy, of Orange County, Calif., and junior Kelley Roberts, of Coon Rapids, Minn., said they've always felt safe.
"Honestly since I've been here, I have not noticed at all or felt unsafe, ever," Hardy said.
As a criminal justice major, Hardy said he has "absolute faith in the Fargo Police Department compared to other police departments in California. And because we are such a close-knit community I think that people look out for each other."
Roberts said it wasn't until she moved to Fargo that she learned of Bearson's case, so it didn't affect her decision to attend NDSU.
Ingersoll said she stays safe by "involving myself in the right crowd and not trusting everybody."
"Some people in a small town may trust everybody that they meet," Ingersoll said. "When you come to Fargo, especially during the school year, there are a lot of people from a lot of places, and you can't trust them all."
NDSU Police Chief Bill Vandal echoed this, saying that students shouldn't be overly trusting. He added they should always use the buddy system and be responsible for the people they are with and personal property.
"There's a lot of people from the upper Midwest — the Minnesota, North Dakota nice — a lot of these kids might come from hometowns where they don't lock their doors, but we want them to remember."
Vandal said reported crime on campus is relatively low, "but it can still happen."
Statistics from 2013 to 2015 show about eight cases of domestic violence each year and eight rape offenses in 2014, three in 2013 and one in 2015. Not included in those stats is the Bearson homicide, however, and that's because it falls under the jurisdiction of the Moorhead Police Department.
"The (Bearson) case continues to advance, and it's certainly not a cold case and people ask that all the time," said Moorhead police Lt. Tory Jacobson.
Four weeks into his time as a Bison, 18-year-old Bearson went missing. His body was found in an RV lot three days later, and police said he was the victim of "homicidal violence." No arrests have been made in the case.
"We have a big event every year that kind of catches the main media," Wenzel said. "From my freshman year with the Bearson case to now we have the Isaiah Smith case."
The student body president added that campus is "relatively well-informed" and that "helps bring together the community in a way that doesn't respond in fear and tension."