Court documents are revealing new information in the case of a quadruple homicide in Laurel, Nebraska on August 4th.
Jason Jones, 42, is charged in Cedar County Court with four counts of first-degree murder, two counts of first-degree arson and four counts of use of a firearm to commit a felony.
The charges stem from August 4th, when law enforcement was called to 209 Elm Street for a reported explosion. There they discovered 53-year-old Michelle Eberling dead inside, of apparent gunshot wounds. The home was reportedly also set on fire. A backpack with receipts for gas, gas cans and other items was found inside the home, purchased with a credit card registered to Jones.
A short time later, a second fire was reported in Laurel with three individuals, Gene Twiford, 86, Janet Twiford, 85 and Dana Twiford, 55, all of Laurel, later found dead inside of apparent gunshot wounds at their home at 503 Elm Street. A prybar was used to gain entrance to the Twiford home and that prybar was found inside the home by investigators. A pistol, licensed to Jones, was also found inside the house in the living room. A Molotov cocktail was also discovered in the Twiford's residence.
Jones was arrested at a home at 206 Elm Street the next morning, Aug. 5th, across the street from the first victim's residence. He was flown to a Lincoln hospital for treatment of severe burns.
READ MORE: COURT DOCS: Suspect arrested; victims identified after Laurel, Neb. quadruple homicide
New search warrant documents say that investigators questioned Jones' wife Carrie on the day of the murders and have since seized and searched her cell phone. According to court documents, Jason Jones had burn injuries to his arms, legs and body.
Carrie Jones had given an interview to investigators where she stated that she peeled off what was left of Jones' clothing from his body when he arrived home, but investigators did not find any obvious signs of burnt clothing at the Jones' residence.
Documents also say that a witness advised that when the explosion took place at 209 Elm St., he ran to render aid. The witness says that he had contact with Carrie Jones on the property, which Carrie Jones later admitted to investigators.
READ MORE: NSP investigating multiple crime scenes, 4 dead in Laurel, Nebraska
Jason Jones is the only person charged in the case and Nebraska State Patrol says he remains in the hospital.
His bond has been set at $5 million.
Siouxland News has been following this story since August 4th. Find our extended story on the initial investigation here.
Classes are already in session for Norfolk Public Schools.
"Staff and students seem to be a little more relaxed and a little more excited than the last couple of years when we were faced with COVID restrictions and just the unknownst angst of the pandemic."
Superintendent, Dr. Jami Jo Thompson says students and staff were eager to get back into the classroom this school year in Norfolk.
"(It's) a really good feeling getting back into the buildings and seeing kids this year." While there are a few post-COVID-19 changes still implemented, it's back to normal for Norfolk Public Schools.
"There are some things that we have continued such as the increased cleaning and sanitation, changing of our air filters, those types of things," Dr. Thompson said. "But overall, we're trying to keep our programming and our instruction pretty consistent because there's been a lot of changes in children's lives the last couple of years and we found that consistency is really important right now."
One big change that is sticking around is the importance of mental health, with licensed mental health professionals available to staff and students throughout the district.
"At the beginning of the pandemic, we saw that our counselors were overwhelmed and that's why we added those licensed mental health practitioners that can take on those more advanced or difficult cases," said Dr. Thompson.
Much like the rest of the nation, hiring has been a challenge. Norfolk had one open teaching position they weren't able to fill before the year started, a high school English position which the district merged into other classes for this semester.
"We have a little bit larger class sizes, which isn't ideal, but they're still manageable," said Dr. Thompson. The district hopes to hire for that position for next semester. Another change this year is we also just this year started paying our student teachers a stipend for their work in our classrooms to help with that recruitment."
With a new addition at the Lincoln Montessori Elementary building and other updates throughout the district, Dr. Thompson says this new school year is setting up to be a great one in Norfolk.
"I'm just excited that kids seem to be very happy to be here. Teachers seem to be happy to be here. You know, getting out and just visiting with the kids."
Classes began last week for Norfolk Public Schools.
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There are a few big upgrades happening at the South Sioux City Community School District this year, like brand new playground equipment at Covington Elementary.
There is also a new ventilation system at E.N. Swett thanks to COVID ESSER funding available to the district. "Right now, we are using it to increase the actual air quality in some of our aging buildings," Superintendent Todd Strom said about the district's use of the government funding.
There is also a new athletic complex that is set to open in the fall at the high school, something the district has been planning for years.
"Now we are finally seeing some nice, rich green grass going down and it looks like a soccer and football field. It's really exciting."
READ MORE: See our exclusive look at the Cardinal Athletic Complex development
One positive item on the agenda this school year is the return of all district leadership, something not typically seen in larger districts.
"All of our administrators are back which is a very rare thing for a district our size to have all of our principals and district-level leadership returning," said Strom, adding this element adds "stability and confidence in our leadership."
Like much of the country, the South Sioux City Community School District is also feeling the strain of finding enough educators and staff to fill all open positions. But they do have roughly 30 new educators joining classrooms this year.
"We are fortunate to have a certified classroom teacher in front of each student, but some of those positions we might have a long-term sub or someone that we would continue to look for a certificated teacher to replace them next year," Strom said. "We do have teachers on staff that have come to us from other trades that are great teachers that bring with them that trade experience, that industry experience and then are able to relate to the kids and talk to them about future professions in that industry," said Strom.
Mental Health is also a top priority for the district and has been in recent years.
"We have a great community partner in Heartland Counseling. We've partnered with them to place licensed mental health therapists in our schools," Strom said. "Their caseloads are fairly substantial, close to 100 cases per therapist. They are in our schools and able to be accessed by students, faculty, and parents in a confidential setting."
The district also has a growing internship program for high school students who are placed in part-time internships while continuing to take classes.
Kindergarten through 5th grade, 6th and 9th grade all started class Thursday. All students will return for the new school year Friday.
The district still has several positions that need to be filled for this school year that are not in the classroom, you can find those open positions here.
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LAUREL, NEB. — Nebraska State Patrol made an arrest in Laurel, Nebraska early Friday morning, just 24 hours after four people were killed at two separate crime scenes.
In a news conference in Laurel Friday morning, Col. John Bolduc of the Nebraska State Patrol, said one person has been arrested for the murders of four people early Thursday morning.
After finding evidence at the scene at both homes after the fires were put out, NSP investigators determined that 42-year-old Jason Jones, who lived across the street from the first home at 206 Elm Street, was a probable suspect in the homicides. Police made entry into Jones' home at 2:30 a.m. Friday and took him into custody. Jones was found with severe burns on his body, investigators say, and was airlifted to St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Lincoln, Neb. He is described to be in serious condition.
He was arrested on suspicion of 1st-degree homicide, 1st-degree arson and four counts of use of a firearm to commit a felony, but has not yet been officially charged. All victims were found with probable gunshot wounds.
"We are still working to process the evidence that we collected at the (arrest) scene, it is still very early in this investigation," said Col. Bolduc."
Watch the news conference from Nebraska State Patrol here.
According to court documents obtained by Siouxland News, authorities were alerted to a reported explosion at 209 Elm Street at 3:11 a.m. Thursday, August 4th. First responders found a woman inside the back door of the home who was suffering from two gunshot wounds. She was pronounced dead at the scene a short time later. First responders also noted burn marks on the floor, walls, and furniture inside the home indicating a fire had happened, they could also smell gasoline and smoke in the home and a red fuel can was found inside the front door followed by a discolored trail on the floor indicating the use of an accelerant.
Later Thursday morning, authorities received a call about smoke coming from a home a few blocks away at 503 Elm Street. Fire officials on the scene found soot and smoke damage at the home when they arrived and discovered three people inside the home with gunshot wounds. They were also pronounced dead. Court documents indicate a pry bar was used to gain entrance to the home and the pry bar was found inside the back door.
Court records indicate a magazine to a firearm was also found inside the 2nd home near the back door with a black Ruger 57 firearm located on the living room floor that was registered to Jones. A Molotov cocktail was also located inside the home indicating the fire was also intentionally set.
With evidence from both crime scenes, investigators got a search warrant for 209 Elm Street, the scene of the first fire, where they located a black backpack with several receipts dated August 3rd for Cubby's Gas Station in Laurel. The credit card linked to the receipt purchase was to a card for Jason A. Jones. Another receipt in the backpack was from Fleet Farm in Sioux City for a 6-gallon auto-shutoff gas can, fuel tank and camping backpack and another receipt for Rath's Mini Mart from August 3rd.
Investigators also obtained surveillance footage from Rath's Mini Mart in Laurel where Jones can be seen filling two red gas cans on August 3rd.
Authorities say they are still searching for one firearm that was used at the first home as it is a different caliber than the firearm used and found at the second home.
Nebraska State Patrol has identified the four people who were killed Thursday.
53-year-old Michele Shankles-Ebeling was the first victim at 209 Elm St. She was identified by family members who described her to Siouxland News. "She always had a smile and was a kind soul that made everyone laugh. She will be missed," her family said.
86-year-old Gene Twiford and his wife, 85-year-old Janet Twiford, and their adult daughter, 55-year-old Dana, perished at the 2nd scene, at 209 Elm Street.
"I want to acknowledge the indescribable grief that this community is experiencing right now," said Col. John Bolduc, Nebraska State Patrol during the news conference Friday morning, "and that's going to be compounded by the betrayal of trust that they are going to feel because a community member here is alleged to have committed these crimes.
The last 24 hours have been difficult not only for the community of Laurel, but for the first responders as well. Not only did the fire crews from three communities work to put out two house fires, they also had to carefully preserve the crime scenes and evidence as they worked.
"I have to talk about, what I consider, the heroic efforts of the firefighters who were on the scene here yesterday," Col. Bolduc said. I describe them as heroic because they had a very difficult task." We asked them to put out these fires while preserving the evidence of these crimes," Col. Bolduc said. "They had to adjust their tactics, in order to do that and they did that with great efficiency. Their efforts preserved the evidence that led us directly to the suspect."
Laurel Mayor Keith Knudsen issued a statement to Siouxland News Friday evening about the tragedy in his community. His full statement is as follows:
On behalf of the City of Laurel, we offer the loved ones of those who passed our condolences. We grieve together with them during this difficult time and pray that God will grant them and our community comfort, healing, and strength in the days ahead. The City of Laurel would like to recognize and thank Laurel Fire & Rescue, Laurel Police Department, Cedar County Sheriff’s Office, Cedar County Emergency Management Office, Nebraska State Patrol, State Fire Marshall’s Office, Cedar County Attorney, Nebraska Attorney General’s Office, and the Wayne and Belden Volunteer Fire Departments for the extraordinary measures they took this week to serve and protect the Laurel community. Their strength, compassion, resilience and skill in responding to the series of devastating criminal actions is to be commended. We would also like to thank everyone who has reached out to our community and its residents in any way. Your kind words and thoughtful actions have provided overwhelming support as our community works together to heal from the profound impact of this tragedy.
To see our full coverage from Laurel, visit our story here.
Siouxland News is in Laurel and will be updating this story as new information is confirmed.
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Foul play is suspected after four people were found dead at two separate crime scenes in the small community of Laurel, Nebraska on Thursday.
The Nebraska State Patrol, which is leading the investigation, says that Cedar County received a call at about 3:00 a.m. Thursday morning about an explosion at 209 Elm St. in Laurel. Fire crews found one person dead inside that home.
While first responders were at the first scene, a second fire was reported at 503 Elm St., about three blocks away from the first crime scene. Fire officials found three people dead inside that home while clearing it during the fire.
In a release late Thursday night, Nebraska State Patrol says gunfire is believed to have played a part in both crime scenes. Upon further investigation following the fires, fire investigators say both fires looked to have been started around the same time around 3 a.m.
The houses are three blocks apart and the Nebraska State Patrol says foul play is suspected, though they will not confirm that both crimes were committed by the same individual at this time. The NSP say they believe that accelerants were used in both incidents and anyone inside the homes at the time of the fires received burns.
"We are not categorizing as anything at this point. We have multiple crime scenes we have four dead. We're trying to get to the bottom of it and it's very early in its investigation," said Col. John Bolduc, Nebraska State Patrol.
"It would be a stretch to say there is no connection, but it's very early in the investigation and we hope to find those answers in the coming days." A silver Sedan that witnesses put at the scene was seen leaving Laurel, Nebraska west on Highway 20, driven by a black male. The vehicle may have stopped to pick up a passenger. It is possible that the suspect or suspects have injuries from burns.
WATCH: Nebraska State Patrol provides information on Laurel crime scenes.
Authorities and crime scene investigators will remain on the scene for some time, as fire adds another element to the investigation. "These are very complicated investigations," Col. Bolduc said.
The Cedar County Sheriff was also in Laurel assisting in the investigation, but also assuring the community of Laurel that they are safe. "It's a tight-knit community," said Sheriff Larry Koranda, "it's a very safe community. Everybody knows everybody in this small community."
Incidents like this don’t happen in small towns. That is what those living in Laurel, a town of just over 1,000 people, are saying as their small community is trying to wrap their heads around what has taken place. One neighbor to the second crime scene who wished not to be identified told Siouxland News that she never thought something like this would happen in her neighborhood.
"Incidents like this can shake a community," Col. Bolduc said, "but I want to emphasize we have an astounding public safety team on the scene here with a number of our partners to keep the community safe."
The identities of the victims are not being released at this time, pending notification of the families. Authorities have been talking with local businesses to see if any have surveillance videos that may be relevant.
Sheriff Koranda praised the first responders on the scene, especially the fire crews who are mainly volunteers. "It affects everybody," Sheriff Koranda said, "I'm grateful for what they are doing."
The Nebraska State Patrol is also seeking any information from the public. If you have any information please call 402-479-4921.
The town and businesses in the community did go on lockdown for much of the day as investigators worked the scene.
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