LAUREL — It took law enforcement less than 24 hours to arrest a suspect after four bodies were found in Laurel.
Jason A. Jones, 42, of Laurel was arrested Friday at 2:30 am in connection to four deaths found within blocks of each other, according to the Nebraska State Patrol. The four victims were found deceased in separate residences in the early-morning hours on Thursday.
Court records obtained by the Daily News have revealed more information about the alleged incident that led up to the victims’ deaths on Thursday.
According to the court records, a 911 call was made by a male around 3:30 am on Thursday after he heard an explosion that occurred at 209 Elm St. Laurel Fire and EMS arrived on the scene and located a woman lying inside the back door of the residence. She was pronounced dead on the scene after lifesaving attempts were unsuccessful.
Court records state that the woman appeared to have suffered two gunshot wounds. A bullet casing was found near her body.
The woman was later identified as Michelle Ebeling, 53, by the Nebraska State Patrol.
A fire also appeared to occur inside the residence after burn marks were observed on the floor, walls and furniture, according to the court records. The smell of smoke and gasoline was also present at the time, indicating that the fire had just occurred.
According to the records, a red fuel container could be observed and a discolored trail on the floor indicated that a fire accelerant was used on the scene.
A search warrant was later issued for Jones’ residence at 206 Elm. St, according to the court records. After entering the house, the Nebraska State Patrol SWAT team found several receipts in a black backpack.
Two receipts showed purchases from Cubby’s Gas Station and Rath’s Mini Mart in Laurel under Jones’ credit card, but it was not stated what he purchased from the gas station and liquor store.
However, another receipt found that a 6-gallon auto shutoff gas can, fuel tank and camping backpack were purchased from a department store in Sioux City, Iowa, under Jones’ credit card.
On Thursday, investigators met with an employee at Rath’s Mini Mart and viewed camera footage, which showed Jones pumping gas into two red gas cans, court records stated.
Shortly after the first incident was reported, a 911 call was made regarding smoke coming from a residence located at 503 Elm St.
Laurel Fire and EMS arrived on the scene and discovered soot damage consistent with fire, court records indicated.
According to the court records, three individuals were found in the residence, and all appeared to have gunshot wounds. The victims were Gene and Janet Twiford, 86 and 85, respectively, and Dana Twiford, 55. They were pronounced dead at the scene.
A firearm was found at the residence, which was purchased by Jones, according to the court records, which also stated that the gunshot wounds were consistent with the firearm found. However, the gunshot wounds to Ebeling appeared to have been shot by a different caliber firearm that has not been located, authorities said.
According to the court records, Jones will be charged with 10 felonies: Four counts of first-degree homicide, two counts of first-degree arson and four counts of use of a firearm to commit a felony.
The Nebraska State Patrol said on Friday that Jones was transported to CHI St. Elizabeth in Lincoln because of serious burn injuries. It is unclear at this time when his first court hearing will be.
It’s been more than a century since tragedy struck the Northeast Nebraska town of 1,000 people, according to Brenda Whalen, a resident of Laurel.
According to Whalen, the last time murder that happened in Laurel was during a 1918 shootout.
“Hopefully that was that century’s big news and this is this century’s big news and it never happens again,” Whalen said.
Whalen, who grew up in Laurel, said she was first aware that something had happened in her hometown when the fire whistle blew at around 3:14 am on Thursday. However, she didn’t hear about the day’s events until around 7:30 am
“It hurts your heart that something like this can happen in your little town because it’s safe here,” Whalen said.
Whalen said that she felt reassured for her safety when she saw the number of law enforcement authorities and firefighters in town. But at the same time, it also alarmed her to see that many law enforcement personnel.
“It still just didn’t feel real,” Whalen said. “It felt like it wasn’t a real event that was really happening here. It just felt like you were in a movie. It’s very hard to comprehend that it even happened yet.”
John Bolduc, superintendent of the Nebraska State Patrol, said in a news conference on Friday that more than 60 law enforcement officers were reportedly in town.
Whalen later found out that Jones had been arrested in connection to the quadruple homicide on Friday morning.
According to the state patrol, Jones lived across the street from one of the victims’ homes. He was later arrested at his residence, 206 Elm. St.
“It’s very shocking that the suspect could have been there across the street the whole entire day,” Whalen said, “while the police were present in the neighborhood.”
Whalen said that although she didn’t know Jones, she knew the victims well. She knew the Twifords from church, and Ebeling was a frequent customer in her store, Laurel’s Hometown Market.
“We are a very safe community, tight-knit community; we’ll make it through this,” Whalen said. “It’s not going to be over for a while. And I think learning more about what and why it happened will be helpful to help the community heal.”