Neighbor charged with 10 crimes in connection with four murders in small Nebraska town

The 42-year-old man suspected of killing four of his neighbors in the small northeast Nebraska town of Laurel has been charged with 10 felonies – including four counts of first-degree murder – for his alleged role in the crimes that shook the town’s 1,000 residents. residents about 40 minutes west of Sioux City, Iowa.

Investigators arrested Jason A. Jones, who has lived on Elm Street in Laurel since at least 2019, after a pair of receipts and a gun left at the scene of two house fires Thursday morning were linked to him, an affidavit claims. for a search warrant filed in Cedar County.

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Authorities found the first of four bodies around 3 a.m. Thursday after responding to a reported explosion at 209 Elm St., according to the Nebraska State Patrol.

Michele Ebeling, a 53-year-old resident, was found dead of two gunshot wounds at the home, according to the patrol.

Another fire was reported three blocks away around 9:30 a.m., court documents show, although State Patrol Superintendent Col. John Bolduc said the fires started around the same time. .

At the scene of the second fire, authorities found Gene Twiford, 86; his wife Janet Twiford, 85; and their daughter Dana Twiford, 55. All three lived in the home at 503 Elm St. and were found dead with apparent gunshot wounds, State Patrol investigator Michael Henry said in the search warrant affidavit.

At Ebeling’s home, where authorities first responded, investigators found three receipts – including one for gasoline at the local Rath’s Mini Mart, another for a six-gallon canister of gasoline at a retail store of Sioux City. The credit card used for both purchases belongs to Jones, Henry said in the affidavit.

At the Twifords’ home, police found a Ruger .57 caliber pistol, a firearms magazine and a Molotov cocktail, Henry said. Investigators have determined that Jones is the registered owner of the weapon. He had bought it in February 2021.

Security footage from the Mini Mart showed Jones filling two gas canisters there around 8 p.m. Wednesday, Henry said in the affidavit.

Police arrested Jones, who lived across from the Twifords, at his home around 2:30 a.m. Friday, Bolduc said at an early morning news conference at the city’s fire station. No one else was in the house when Jones was arrested.

Bolduc said Jones suffered severe burns to “a large part of his body” during his arrest, apparently resulting from the pair of fires started at the victims’ homes. He was airlifted to CHI St. Elizabeth in Lincoln, where he remains in serious condition.

State Patrol spokesman Cody Thomas said he was unaware of any previous contact law enforcement may have had with Jones prior to his arrest on Friday.

Prosecutors formally charged Jones with four counts of first-degree murder, as well as two counts of first-degree arson and four counts of using a firearm to commit a felony.

A Cedar County judge appointed the Nebraska Commission on Public Defense to represent Jones. The commission’s lead counsel did not comment on Friday.

Any connection between the victims and Jones — aside from their proximity along the tree-lined street — remains unclear. At Friday’s press conference, Bolduc declined to share an alleged motive.

“I want to acknowledge the indescribable grief this community is going through right now,” Bolduc said.

“And that’s going to be compounded by the betrayal of trust that they’re going to feel, because a member of the community here is suspected of committing these crimes.”

A Nebraska State Patrol cruiser sits outside Laurel’s home where three people were found dead Thursday morning. The murders of four people in two separate houses shook the small community.

Margery A. Beck, Associated Press

Keith Knudsen, the town’s mayor who made his Friday calls to his day job at a Laurel bank, said the tight-knit community, which he described as an extended family, took the day’s news with a feeling both sadness for the loss and relief at Jones’ apprehension.

He said he was surprised to learn Friday morning that the suspected killer was a local resident, the latest in a series of developments that have shocked the city since 3 a.m. Thursday.

“It’s a tragic thing to happen in a small community,” he said. “Everything is still quite fresh.”

Bolduc praised the efforts of first responders and, specifically, thanked the fire crews who he said “preserved the evidence that led us directly” to Jones.

It is unclear whether Jones, who lived at 206 Elm St., ever left Laurel following the crimes. Bolduc came under intense scrutiny from reporters Friday for unclear guidance from authorities on whether local businesses should go into lockdown.

“We were limited to the facts we had at the time,” he said on Friday. “Granted, with over 60 law enforcement officers in town yesterday, we felt like the community was pretty safe.”

Bolduc also walked back Thursday’s warning from his agency about a black man they say was seen driving a silver sedan away from Laurel following the incident. Jones, the state patrol confirmed, is white.

“We don’t believe it’s the same person,” Bolduc said. “But we would like to speak to that person as a witness if we are able to identify him. But, certainly, as the information has developed, that lead has become less significant.

Journal Star reporters Lori Pilger and Chris Dunker contributed to this report.

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