Mourners gather to remember Bearson
SARTELL -- While authorities investigate the death of 18-year-old North Dakota State University student Thomas Bearson, about 1,250 people gathered for a funeral service Monday at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church.
SARTELL - While authorities investigate the death of 18-year-old North Dakota State University student Thomas Bearson, about 1,250 people gathered for a funeral service Monday at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church.
Overflow seating was needed to accommodate the crowd in a service that highlighted Thomas’ easy-going personality and passion for athletics.
Bearson’s body was found Sept. 23 outside at a recreational vehicle lot in Moorhead. The Ramsey County medical examiner’s office says Bearson died as the “result of homicidal violence.”
“We’ve tried desperately to make sense of this tragedy,” said Greg Bearson, Thomas’ father. “The only thing we can come up with is the basketball team in heaven needed a point guard.”
Basketball was a common theme at Monday’s service.
Thomas got a toy basketball hoop at his first Christmas and a Little Tykes version after he turned 3. Later in his life, he was often seen playing basketball in the family’s driveway.
Thomas, who went on to star for the Sartell High School basketball team, was infatuated with former Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan.
“He played basketball for hours,” Greg said. “He played in the rain and in the cold. He played in the morning and at night. I’m sure he even played in his dreams.”
Thomas’ older cousin Ryan Walsh, one of Monday’s pall bearers, recalled playing basketball with Thomas on holidays and at family get-togethers.
“Even last Christmas when it was 20 below zero, he was still out there playing,” Walsh said. “Being his older cousin, I always wanted to show Tom that he wasn’t as good as he thought he was. Now that he is gone, I have to admit he was much better than I or my brother.”
Former Sartell basketball coach Dave Angell spoke at the ceremony. Thomas first played for the Sabres varsity squad as a freshman.
Thomas missed a game-winning shot against Albany High School as a sophomore.
“I told him in the locker room ‘You have to fail in that situation to eventually be successful,’ ” Angell said.
The next season, Thomas hit a game-winning shot against Albany.
Thomas’ sister, Maddie Bearson, said she would lean on her brother as a proofreader when writing sports articles as a journalism student. Maddie was born 18 months before Thomas.
“Being the older sibling I should have been the role model, but he was a role model to me,” Maddie said. “Tom didn’t have to try hard to be good at something. I admired him growing up. I still do.
“I’m proud to be Tom Bearson’s sister.”
Thomas’ mother, Debbie Bearson, recalled the cold temperatures on the day he was born - Jan. 6, 1996. She said Thomas’ blue eyes often garnered attention.
“Most parents can’t wait for their newborns to sleep, but I couldn’t wait for him to wake up,” Debbie said.
Debbie also told a story of Thomas refusing to eat Reese’s Pieces at a birthday party when he was younger so he could still give his mother, allergic to peanuts, kisses.
“Tom had a heart of gold,” Debbie said. “Most of all I will miss hearing him say ‘I love you Mom.’ He will still hear from me every day.”
The Bearson family thanked the Sartell community and the investigating authorities. The family has lived in Sartell for 20 years.
They said they’ve received cards, gifts and food from a multitude of people, including several well-wishes from strangers.
“We are grateful that Tom’s body was found and we know many people are working hard to find the perpetrator,” said Walsh, reading a prepared statement from the Bearson family to media members in the parking lot of the church after the ceremony.
“Moving forward, it will be extremely important to the family that justice is served.”
Father Tim Baltes presided over the funeral. He encouraged mourners “to heal one step at a time.”