The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

January 4, 2013

Man questioned in officer slaying commits suicide

— A man questioned several times in the slaying of a Cold Spring police officer fled from investigators and committed suicide this week, authorities said Friday.

They called the man a "person of interest" but said their investigation into the killing of Officer Tom Decker remains active and open.

Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Superintendent Wade Setter identified the man who committed suicide this week as 32-year-old Eric Joseph Thomes of rural Cold Spring.

Officer Decker was shot and killed behind a downtown bar in Cold Spring, a central Minnesota town of about 4,000 people about 75 miles northwest of Minneapolis. He was responding to a report of a possibly suicidal man when he was shot.

A suspect — the man Decker had gone to check on — was quickly arrested, but released days later without charges. The investigation appeared to founder after that, with an intensive but unsuccessful search for a .20-gauge shotgun believed used in the slaying.

Setter said investigators had interviewed Thomes several times about Decker's slaying based on a tip. He said they had found "inconsistencies" in Thomes' responses and were seeking to interview him again shortly after 2 p.m. Wednesday, but when they arrived at his home, he fled to a metal outbuilding.

Thomes refused to come out as agents attempted to make contact with him over the next four to five hours, Setter said. When agents entered the building, Thomes had hanged himself, Setter said.

He said investigators found the shotgun used to kill Decker on property to which Thomes had access. He asked for the public's help in reconstructing Thomes' "activities and conduct" over the last few weeks.

Decker, 31, grew up in the community and was a six-year veteran of the force. He was a father of four children. An estimated 3,200 people, many of them fellow law enforcement officers, attended his funeral service.

Thomes was convicted of driving while intoxicated in Stearns County in 2011 and had a few other speeding and traffic violations.

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