— Trisha Benton Cedar County News LAUREL - Family, friends and neighbors paid their respects and laid to rest Friday three Laurel residents whose lives were tragically cut short.
Laurel’s United Lutheran Church was packed with those seeking comfort in mourning the loss of Gene, 86, Janet, 85, and Dana Twiford, 55, who were murdered Aug. 4. Additionally, more than 150 people watched the Twifords’ memorial service as it was livestreamed online.
“The fact that so many people are gathered here is a testament to the lives of Gene, Janet and Dana,” said Matthew Quanbeck, pastor of Laurel’s United Lutheran Church. “It’s really tough to get our heads around it. Many of us are still wondering if we’re going to wake up from a bad dream.”
During the memorial sermon, Quanbeck relayed that even in the face of death, security in Jesus is solid.
Dana loved to do laundry and was an avid Husker volleyball fan. She worked at Hillcrest Care Center in the kitchen for 20 years, where she loved talking and laughing with residents.
Janet was particular about housecleaning and active in church. She also served on the American Legion Auxilary, holding several positions over 37 years.
Stories were shared about Janet’s granddaughters planning a Grandma’s Day Out every year. Activities at the Grandma’s Day Out were to be a complete surprise to Janet, which she hated and tried every tactic to get the secret plans revealed.
Three of her granddaughters - through tears - read Scriptures that had been underlined in Janet’s Bible.
Gene was also eager to help out, asking if anything needed to be “beefed up.”
Gene often jokingly attempted to pay a cashier by pulling a hardware washer out of his pocket instead of coins. In his memory, the Laurel Apothecary accepted washers for cups of coffee last week.
He was active in the Laurel Veterans Post and American Legion for 48 years and served as the state commander of the American Legion. He was chairman of the Cedar County Veterans Service Committee and was instrumental in getting Highway 20 across the state of Nebraska renamed to the Medal of Honor Highway.
The Patriot Riders, a group of veteran motorcycle riders, led the procession to the Laurel City Cemetery Friday where military rites were performed.
Services for the fourth murder victim, Michele Shankles-Ebeling, will be held Sept. 9 in Atchison, Kan.
Although Michele had only been living in the Laurel area for a few years, her daughter, Richele, believes she left a lasting impact.
“She didn’t know a stranger and she was just a friend to everybody,” Richele said, even acting as a mother figure to Richele’s friends. “We’d be in Walmart and she’d just start talking to people. I’d be like, ‘Do you even know this woman?’” She was living in the home at 209 Elm St. with her boyfriend, Brian Welch. Michele often went traveling with Brian as he was a trucker.
She will remember her mother’s love for a bargain - shopping at garage sales and thrift shops, and the way she frequently called just to check in.
Mother and daughter had a conversation the night before Michele was murdered.
“She was doing one of her check-ins, making small talk. She told me that she loved me and was proud of me before she hung up the phone,” Richele said.
See VICTIMS, Page 2 It’s hard to believe that her It’s hard to believe that her mother is really gone.
“Those memories are just so vivid in my mind still. I’m literally trying to think of every moment,” she said.
With her mother’s personality of being a friend to all, it’s hard for Richele to wrap her mind around why she was murdered.
“She had a heart of gold. Why do this to someone who didn’t deserve it? It just doesn’t make sense. It really doesn’t,” she said. “It feels like I’m living a ‘Dateline’ story. It’s just nuts.”
The man accused of murdering the Twifords and Shankles-Ebeling, Jason A. Jones of Laurel, is still in serious condition at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Lincoln, said Capt. Kevin Ryan of the Nebraska State Patrol.
There has been no change in his condition since he was arrested Aug. 5 and flown by medical helicopter to the hospital for treatment of burns.
His medical care is the responsibility of Cedar County after any payments are made by any insurance coverage of other benefits, Ryan said.
Sheriff Larry Koranda said Jones is being guarded at the hospital by a private security firm.
All of the victims were found to be shot before their homes were started on fire. A backpack was found at one of the crime scenes containing receipts that led back to Jones.
It is not known if Jones was in his residence across the street during the entire aftermath of the crimes and while first responders and investigators were on scene.
A vehicle fire near the crime scenes last week was unrelated to the murders, Ryan said.
Koranda said the sheriff’s office has never dealt with Jones in a criminal nature prior to the murders.
No other information has been released because of the ongoing investigation, Ryan said.