Neighbor suspected of murder in Laurel
LAUREL — In what law enforcement described as a ‘betrayal of trust,’ a member of the community - a neighbor - is believed to have murdered four people here Thursday.
“I want to acknowledge the indescribable grief this community is experiencing right now,” said Col. John Bolduc of the Nebraska State Patrol. “And that’s going to be compounded by the betrayal of trust they’re going to feel because a community member here is alleged to have committed these crimes.”
The Nebraska State Patrol SWAT team arrested Jason A. Jones, 42, at his home at 206 Elm St. early Friday morning, on suspicion of murder, Bolduc said.
Following repeated attempts to have Jones exit the home voluntarily in the pre-dawn hours Friday, the SWAT team made entry and located Jones in a bedroom. He was taken into custody without incident, Bolduc said, however, Jones had serious burns over a large part of his body. He was taken by emergency medical helicopter to St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Lincoln for treatment where his injuries are considered serious.
He is in custody at the hospital and faces charges of four counts of first-degree murder, two counts of first-degree arson and a number of weapons charges.
A Nebraska criminal case records check did not turn up any past criminal charges for Jones.
First responders were called to 209 Elm St. around 3 a.m., Thursday, to the report of an explosion and house fire, finding Michele Shankles-Ebeling, 53, deceased. About five hours later, local law enforcement on scene noticed smoke coming from a home a few blocks away at 503 Elm St.
Gene Twiford, 86, Janet Twiford, 85, and Dana Twiford, 55, were found to be deceased at the home.
All of the victims were found with what appeared to be gunshot wounds, according to court documents.
Law enforcement were able to get a search warrant of the Ebeling home and found a red fuel container inside the front door and noticed a trail indicating the use of accelerants to help ignite the fire. A backpack was also found, containing receipts that led back to Jones.
Investigators said it appeared access to the Twiford home was gained by a pry bar. A firearm was found on the living room floor, along with an incendiary device, according to court documents.
“The work is just beginning as there is a large amount of evidence to process,” Bolduc said. “I describe them (first responders) as heroic because they had a very difficult task. We asked them to put out these fires while preserving evidence to these crimes. 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."
He noted the victims ‘ bodies would undergo an autopsy Friday.
It is not known whether Jones was in his residence across the street during the entire aftermath of the crimes and while first responders and investigators were on scene. As of Thursday afternoon, law enforcement officers were focused on looking for a potential suspect who they believed had fled the area.
It’s unknown if there will be any other arrests in the case, Bolduc said.
Several agencies have been involved in the response and investigation including the volunteer fire departments of Laurel, Wayne and Belden; the State Fire Marshal’s Office; the Cedar County Attorney; the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office; Laurel Police Department; Cedar County Sheriff’s Office and the Nebraska State Patrol.
Cedar County Sheriff Larry Koranda, a long-time Laurel resident, was near tears when he thanked the community for the outpouring of support for the local first responders and emergency workers.