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 which rattled the town of less than 1,000 residents about 40 minutes west of Sioux City, Iowa.
Investigators arrested Jason A. Jones, who had lived on Elm Street in Laurel since at least 2019, after a pair of receipts and a gun left at the scene of two Thursday morning house fires were linked to him, according to an affidavit for a search warrant filed in Cedar County.
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, 53, was found dead of two gunshots wounds in the home where she lived, according to the patrol.
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Another fire was reported three blocks away around 9:30 a.m., according to court filings, though Col. John Bolduc, the state patrol's superintendent, said the fires are thought to have been started around the same time.
At the scene of the second fire, police found Gene Twiford, 86; his wife Janet Twiford, 85; and their daughter Dana Twiford, 55. All three were residents of the home at 503 Elm St. and found dead with apparent gunshot wounds, State Patrol Investigator Michael Henry said in the affidavit for the search warrant.
At Ebeling's house, where authorities first responded, investigators found three receipts — including one for gas at the local Rath's Mini Mart, another for a six-gallon gas cannister at a Sioux City hardware store. The MasterCard used for both purchases belongs to Jones, Henry said in the affidavit.
At the Twifords' house, police found a Ruger .57 caliber pistol, a firearm magazine and a Molotov cocktail, Henry said. Investigators determined Jones is the registered owner of the gun. He had purchased 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 the street from the Twifords, at his home around 2:30 a.m. Friday, Bolduc said at a morning new conference in the town's fire station.
Bolduc said Jones had serious burns over “a large part of his body" upon his arrest, apparently stemming from the pair of fires set at the victims' homes. He was taken by helicopter to CHI St. Elizabeth in Lincoln, where he remains in serious condition.
Prosecutors have formally charged Jones with the four counts of first-degree murder along with two counts of first-degree arson and four counts of use of a firearm to commit a felony, according to court filings.
A Cedar County judge appointed the Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy to represent Jones. The commission's lead attorney offered no comment on Friday.
Any connection between the deceased and Jones — aside from their proximity — remains unclear. At Friday's news conference, Bolduc declined to share a suspected motive for the alleged crimes.
“I want to acknowledge the indescribable grief that this community is experiencing right now,” Bolduc said.
“And that’s gonna be compounded by the betrayal of trust that they’re gonna feel, because a community member here is alleged to have committed these crimes.”
Bolduc saluted the efforts of first responders and, specifically, thanked the fire crews who he said "preserved the evidence that led us directly" to Jones.
It's unclear if Jones, who lived at 206 Elm St., ever left Laurel in the aftermath of the crimes. Bolduc faced scrutiny from reporters on Friday for authorities’ unclear guidance on whether local businesses should enter lockdown.
“We were limited to the facts that had at the time,” he said. “Certainly, with 60-plus law enforcement officers in town yesterday, we felt like the community was pretty safe.”
Bolduc also walked back his agency’s Thursday warning about a Black man who they said was seen driving a silver sedan away from Laurel in the aftermath of the incident. Jones, the State Patrol confirmed, is white.
“We don’t believe that’s the same person,” Bolduc said. “But we would like to talk to that person as a witness if we are able to identify them. But, certainly, as the information has developed, that lead became less significant.”
Journal Star reporters Lori Pilger and Chris Dunker contributed to this report.
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