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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