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Investigators ask for public’s help for leads in case

Law enforcement investigating four Laurel deaths

LAUREL - It was a deadly day here Thursday, as four people died and investigators suspect foul play in two home fires. 

Gene and Jan Twiford, and their adult daughter, Dana, perished at 503 Elm St., and Michelle Shankles-Ebling, was found at 209 Elm St. Those identities were confirmed by family members, although law enforcement officials did not confirm the identities of the victims at a press conference Thursday afternoon.

“We have two fires with deceased people three blocks apart,” said Neb. State Patrol Supt. Col. John Bolduc. “It would be a stretch to say there’s no connection, but it’s very early in the investigation.”

Foul play is suspected in the deaths, as accelerants are believed to have been used. Investigators would not comment on the cause of death,, saying the bodies will be examined by a coroner. 

A potential suspect, described as a black male, remains at large. Investigators believe he may have picked up another individual in a silver sedan before leaving the area westbound on Highway 20 Thursday morning.

No other description of the suspect was available, however, Bolduc said he may have burn injuries from the fire. 

The Nebraska State Patrol is taking the investigative lead and encourages the public to call 402-479-4921 with any information about the crimes or if there’s any security camera footage that may provide clues. 

Investigators did confirm the day’s events started when first responders were called to 209 Elm St. for the report of an explosion at 3 a.m., Thursday. When they arrived, they found an individual inside the house deceased. 

While still on the scene, the call came in for the fire at 503 Elm St. First responders found three individuals deceased inside that home. 

Investigators were still processing evidence late Thursday afternoon, Bolduc said. 

“”We are on this case until it's solved,” he said. 

Sheriff Larry Koranda characterized Laurel as a tight-knit and safe community, but urges people to be aware and diligent. 

“If they see something out of the ordinary - something they’re not used to - contact the state patrol ... so investigators can follow up on those leads,” he said.

Buldoc and Koranda expressed gratitude for all of the first responders and law enforcement agencies who have helped, including the volunteer fire departments from Laurel, Wayne and Belden, the Laurel police department and Cedar County Emergency Management. 

The lockdown that was put into place for the community Thursday morning is now up to each individual and business, Koranda said.