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 rattled the town's 1,000 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 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 at about 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 in the home, according to the patrol.
Another fire was reported three blocks away at about 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 at about 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 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 canister at a Sioux City retail store. The credit card 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 at about 8 p.m. Wednesday, Henry said in the affidavit.
Police arrested Jones, who lived across the street from Ebeling, at his home at about 2:30 a.m. Friday, Bolduc said at a morning news conference in the town's fire station. No one else was in the home when Jones was arrested.
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.
State Patrol spokesman Cody Thomas said he is not aware of any previous contacts law enforcement might have had with Jones before his arrest Friday.
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.
A Cedar County judge appointed the Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy to represent Jones. The commission's lead attorney offered no comment Friday.
Any connection between the victims and Jones — aside from their proximity along the tree-lined street — remains unclear. At Friday's news conference, Bolduc declined to share a suspected motive.
“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.”
Keith Knudsen, the town's mayor who spent his Friday fielding calls at his day job at a Laurel bank, said the tight-knit community, which he described as an extended family, had taken the day's news with a sense of both sadness for the loss and relief for Jones' apprehension.
He said he was surprised by the news Friday morning that the alleged killer was a local resident, the latest in a string of developments that have shocked the town since 3 a.m. Thursday.
"It's a tragic thing to happen in a small community," he said. "It's all still pretty fresh."
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 Friday for authorities’ unclear guidance on whether local businesses should enter a lockdown.
“We were limited to the facts that we had at the time,” he said Friday. “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.