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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