Listen Man questioned in Cold Spring officer's killing is found dead
Listen Rupa Shenoy talks about the investigation in Cold Spring
After weeks of silence, investigators at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the Stearns County Sheriff's Office say they have a break in the case of Officer Tom Decker's death.
Officials on Friday said they have recovered the gun that killed Decker on Nov. 29 in the central Minnesota town of Cold Spring. Eric Joseph Thomes, 31, was connected to that weapon but fled just as investigators tried to question him. He was later found dead.
Police had called a Thomes a person of interest. In the past few weeks in the investigation the police were tipped that Thomes may have had something to do with Decker's death.
"We had a tipster call in based on the information that we were asking for. It actually couldn't have worked any better," said Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner at a press conference Friday.
Sanner said BCA agents questioned Thomes repeatedly and found inconsistencies in his responses. At about 2 p.m. Wednesday police went out to Thomes' home on the outskirts of Cold Spring, in a development where several signs warn visitors they are crossing into private property.
BCA superintendent Wade Setter said as agents approached, Thomes ran from his house into a metal building on his property. Setter said BCA agents tried for several hours to talk Thomes into coming out, but did not provide specific details.
"Shortly before 7 p.m. our agents and investigators from Stearns County made entry into the building and found that that individual had committed suicide by hanging himself," Setter said.
He said during the subsequent search, investigators found a 20-gauge shotgun on a separate property. Investigators say the recovered shotgun is the weapon that shot Decker.
"It was a property that Mr. Thomes would've had access to," Setter said.
He said investigators also found a black van matching the description of a vehicle spotted the night of Decker's death. Setter would not confirm it was the same van, but said investigators were still examining the vehicle. Thomes had multiple DUIs, but Setter would not say if Decker was the responding officer in those cases.
Setter said that Thomes was a person of interest, and not a suspect.
"That would be premature for us to even reach a conclusion that he is the presumptive suspect. Again, we're trying to figure out what his role is," Setter said.
“We are a long ways from concluding it. We have many questions that remain to be answered.Wade Setter, superintendant Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension
He said investigators are seeking information from the public of Thomes' activity over the past six weeks.
"We can't stress enough the value that information may have even though it may seem insignificant to people in the community," Setter said. "We need to find out where he's been, who he's been talking to."
The investigation into Decker's murder has taken a number of turns, including the arrest of a suspect who was released when evidence was insufficient to charge him. However, even that person has not been excluded as a suspect, Setter said.
"As we said this is a complex case. We pursued hundreds of leads; we have thousands of man hours invested in it," Setter said. "We have not excluded anyone as a suspect in this case."
The investigation, he said, is "wide open."
"We are a long ways from concluding it. We have many questions that remain to be answered. It's an active and ongoing investigation."
The reaction from many Cold Spring residents is a tired shrug. They say that, after weeks of enduring scrutiny from the media and the churning rumor mill of a small town, they are ready for resolution.
— Follow Rupa Shenoy on Twitter: http://twitter.com/rupashenoy