Officials say man who later took own life was killer. But questions linger about what exactly happened that night in Cold Spring.
Authorities announced Tuesday that they have concluded that a man who committed suicide in January after he fell under suspicion in Cold Spring police officer Tom Decker’s death was Decker’s killer.
But they don’t know why.
The 31-year-old police officer was ambushed with a shotgun as he responded to a call on the night of Nov. 29, 2012, and left to die behind a downtown Cold Spring bar. By saying that Eric Thomes would have been arrested in Decker’s slaying had he lived, authorities wrapped up the active portion of an eight-month investigation.
But “what was the motive, and did the shooter act alone?” Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner said Tuesday. “Those are the questions still hanging out there that we would like to get the answers to ourselves.”
Those unanswered questions explain in part why it took investigators the better part of a year to finally name Thomes — long considered a “person of interest” — a suspect in Decker’s killing.
Tuesday’s announcement by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension also for the first time cleared the name of Ryan Michael Larson, 34, who was arrested and jailed for five days, but never charged in Decker’s death. The BCA has now handed over its duties to the Sheriff’s Office.
Cold Spring Mayor Doug Schmitz said the latest developments will offer some limited relief to the central Minnesota town of 4,000.
“I think it’s going to bring some closure to some people,” he said. “The evidence was leaning so that they would have made an arrest with Thomes.”
Schmitz said that doesn’t mean Thomes would have been convicted, “but they would have arrested him” had he not taken his own life.
However, “there are a lot of unanswered questions that probably never will be answered, because he took a lot of the answers to his grave,” Schmitz said.
Thomes, 31, a divorced father of two boys, hanged himself Jan. 2 in a metal outbuilding in rural Cold Spring after being questioned by authorities. He ran into the building when he saw investigators arrive for another interview. Authorities said last January that they found the shotgun used to kill Decker on a property to which Thomes had access, but stopped short of declaring he was the person who killed Decker.
Thomes grew up in Cold Spring and graduated from Rocori High School in 1999, a year before Decker. He was a regular patron of Winners Bar, near where Decker was shot, and facing imminent arrest after he failed to appear in court in connection with a drunken-driving charge. He was later linked to a vehicle seen leaving the bar after Decker was shot, and police had interrogated him several times before he committed suicide.
Thomes’ parents, who live in Cold Spring, did not respond to a request for comment. Alicia Decker, the officer’s widow, did not want to comment, according to her attorney, Claudia Revermann.
Initial suspect cleared
Cold Spring’s interim police chief, Chris Boucher, who worked with Decker for six years, said Tuesday’s developments bring no closure to the department.
“We still have a lot of questions that we don’t have answered,” said Boucher, who replaced longtime Chief Phil Jones when he resigned last month.
Why Thomes would have killed Decker and whether he acted alone in the alley remain unknown, Boucher said.