The suspect in a quadruple homicide in which the victims were found dead in two separate house fires has been hospitalized with burns over much of his body and lived across the street from one of the blazes, police in Nebraska said Friday.
Jason A. Jones, 42, of Laurel, was taken into custody early Friday, Nebraska State Police Col. John Bolduc said.
Jones had serious burns over a large part of his body and was airlifted to a hospital in Lincoln, where he was in serious condition, Bolduc said.
Jones was arrested on probable cause for homicide, but has not been booked yet, because he remains at the hospital, Bolduc said. It could not immediately be determined whether he had legal representation.
Police said gunfire is suspected to have “played a part” in the incidents at both homes.
Crime scene investigators obtained physical evidence at the two fire scenes that pointed to a suspect who lived right across the street from one of the fires. Bolduc credited firefighters for putting out the fires while preserving the evidence of the crimes, which led police to the suspect.
Bolduc said it was premature to talk about motive.
“I want to acknowledge the indescribable grief that this community is experiencing right now. And that’s going to be compounded by the betrayal of trust that they’re going to feel because a community member here is alleged to have committed these crimes,” Bolduc said.
The four victims in the case have been identified as a family of three adults, 85-year-old Janet Twiford, 86-year-old Gene Twiford, and 55-year-old Dana Twiford; and the woman who was found in the first house, 53-year-old Michele Ebeling.
Just after 3 a.m. Thursday, Cedar County 911 received a phone call about an explosion at a home in the town of Laurel, Bolduc said during a news conference. When fire crews arrived, they discovered a body inside.
While investigators were on the scene, a second fire was reported a few blocks away, where authorities found “three individuals deceased inside of that residence,” Bolduc said.
“Fire crews have worked diligently to put out the fire but also to preserve evidence that may be located inside the home,” Bolduc said.
Investigators said accelerants might have been used in both fires, and anyone who was inside the homes may have been burned.
James Roberts, who has owned Laurel’s Hometown Market for more than a year, said that news of the deaths had shocked the small town. Laurel has a population of around 1,000 people and is located in Cedar County in the northeast of the state.
“Stuff like this doesn’t happen in this town,” Roberts said. “Everybody here knows everybody.”
He said the grocery store has delivered food to the state troopers and firefighters who responded to the scene and are stationed at a nearby church. Staff packed up hamburgers and sandwiches including sloppy joes in addition to some water to show their support.
“It’s a tight-knit town,” Roberts said. “Everybody here is family.”
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