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Arrest made after four people found dead in reports of explosion, fires at Nebraska homes

Alfredo Alonso Avila / EyeEm / Getty Images

(LAUREL, Neb.) -- A suspect is in custody after four people were found dead at two homes in a small Nebraska town Thursday morning following reports of an explosion and fires, authorities said.

A SWAT team located the suspect about 24 hours after the investigation first began into the "multiple crime scenes" in Laurel, in northeastern Nebraska, state police announced Friday morning.

Evidence collected at the scene of two residential fires led police to a suspect who lived across the street from one of the homes, Nebraska State Patrol Superintendent Col. John Bolduc said during a press briefing Friday.

Police entered the suspect's home at around 2:30 a.m. Friday, where they found 42-year-old Jason Jones with "serious burns" over a large part of his body, Bolduc said. He was airlifted to a hospital, where he is believed to be in serious condition. Jones was arrested on probable cause for homicide and has not yet been booked while he remains hospitalized, Bolduc said.

Bolduc acknowledged the "betrayal of trust" the residents of Laurel may feel "because a community member here is alleged to have committed these crimes."

Authorities first responded to a home shortly after 3 a.m. after a 911 caller reported an explosion at the residence, Bolduc said during a press briefing Thursday afternoon. There was a fire at the home, which is located across the street from the suspect's, according to Nebraska State Patrol.

Once inside, responding officers and deputies found one person dead with suspected gunshot wounds, authorities said. The victim was identified on Friday by Nebraska State Patrol as Michele Ebeling, 53, a resident of the home.

While at the first home, a fire was reported at a second home about three blocks away, Bolduc said. Three people were found dead inside that home, each also with suspected gunshot wounds, authorities said. The victims were identified by Nebraska State Patrol as Gene Twiford, 86, Janet Twiford, 85, and Dana Twiford, 55, who were all residents of the home.

Bolduc had initially said that foul play was suspected in the four deaths. Fire investigators believe accelerants may have been used in both fires at the homes, and Bolduc had previously said the suspect or suspects may have burn injuries.

Fire crews responding to both homes worked to preserve evidence while putting out the fire that "led us directly to the suspect," said Bolduc, who called the responders' efforts "heroic." He could not elaborate on the evidence due to the ongoing investigation and said it was too premature to discuss a possible motive or connection between the victims.

It is unclear if any other suspects will be arrested in connection with the incidents, but authorities said they believe there is no further threat to the community.

Authorities were working with local residents and businesses to obtain any relevant security camera footage as part of their investigation.

Police initially were searching for a silver sedan in connection with the investigation, but Bolduc said that lead ultimately became less significant once investigators were able to access the residences.

The cause of death for the victims will be determined following an autopsy, Bolduc said.

Cedar County Sheriff Larry Koranda said Thursday the community of 1,000 is shaken by what happened.

"Everybody knows everybody in this small community," he said.

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