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Suicide? Murder? Accident?

Some people might be reluctant to take as gospel the words of a grieving mother who has lost a son in tragic circumstances, but Tammy Sadek is on to something that cannot be ignored. She is the mother of Andrew Sadek, the North Dakota State College of Science student who went missing from the Wahpeton campus this spring. His body was found June 27 in the Red River. An autopsy determined he died from a gunshot to the head. The how and why of his death are under investigation. Was it suicide? Homicide? Accident?

In a KFGO radio interview earlier this week, Tammy Sadek dropped a couple of bombshells that had not been revealed by police. The first was that her son’s body was weighted down with a backpack filled with rocks. The other is that Andrew Sadek was being pressured at the time of his death to be an informant in the drug trafficking subculture in southeast North Dakota.

By all accounts, until the recent revelations, Andrew Sadek was seen as a typical college kid. His grades were good, he had a circle of friends, he got along with his family and, his mother said, was planning for the future. She rejects suggestions her son took his own life. Rather, she believes his forced participation as an informant put him in harm’s way.

The questions raised by Tammy Sadek, even in the context of a mother’s grief, demand answers. Law enforcement’s involvement in Andrew’s life and death cannot be brushed under the official rug.

First, if the weighted backpack allegation is true, suicide seems unlikely. Why would a suicidal young man go through an effort to sink his body in the river?

Second, and more troublesome, did the Southeast Multi-County Agency Narcotics Task Force threaten to bring drug possession and/or other charges against Andrew if he refused to go undercover as an informant? And as a result, did drug traffickers discover the student was working with law enforcement and kill him? If the latter turns out to be what happened, the task force must be called to account.

In that regard the attitudes of task force members can be instructive. A member of the board that oversees the task force put it this way regarding use of informants:

It’s standard practice … “to use little fish to try to get bigger fish. … If you didn’t use some technique like that, you’d never be able to get the kingpins.”

Fair enough. But Andrew Sadek’s life should not be dismissed or diminished as that of a “little fish.” If he was pressured into getting close to the “big fish,” and if members of the task force knew his life could be at risk, they should be held responsible for what happened to him.

There are a lot of “ifs” in this disturbing case. Law enforcement and independent examiners should speed the investigation to a conclusion that dispels “ifs” and ends speculation. And in order for findings to be credible, the task force that apparently pressured Andrew Sadek to be an informant should not be allowed to investigate itself.