4 murders end century of quiet in small Nebraska town

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LAUREL, Neb. (AP) — Police arrested a man Friday in the murder of four people in a small northeast Nebraska town where it had been more than 100 years since they last saw such violence.

At around 2.30am on Friday, a police team surrounded the Laurel home of Jason Jones, 42, and stormed inside, guns drawn and using flash bangs. Jones’ home is just off the main downtown street of the town of 1,000 and directly across from one of two homes where occupants were shot before the homes were set on fire, it said. the police.

Jones was so badly burned he had to be airlifted to a Lincoln hospital instead of jail, Nebraska State Patrol Col. John Bolduc said. Jones was charged later Friday with 10 felonies, including four counts of first-degree murder.

The Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy — which often handles capital murder cases — was appointed to represent Jones and declined to comment on the case.

Police allege Jones killed 53-year-old Michele Ebeling early Thursday morning before causing some sort of explosion and fire at his home across the street from him. Police say Jones then drove about three blocks south, broke into another home, and killed 86-year-old Gene Twiford; his wife, Janet Twiford, 85; and their daughter, Dana Twiford, 55.

Charging documents allege Jones committed some of the murders during a burglary, but Bolduc declined to give a possible motive for the murders or say whether Jones knew the victims.

Several people in Laurel said they knew little about Jones other than that he had moved into the house in recent years. Court records show Jones had been living in the Elm Street home since at least 2019. Receipts and a gun left at the scene of the murders were linked to him.

The killings came as a shock to the community located about 100 miles northwest of Omaha. Despite its small size, Laurel is home to five churches and the Knuckleheadz bar which doubles as the town’s cafe. The last criminal homicide in Laurel happened in 2005, when a man died following a bar fight – and that case was ruled manslaughter, not murder.

To find the town’s last known multiple murder, one would have to go back more than 100 years to 1918, when Dr CC Sackett and Harold Crownover were shot dead by suspected burglars they were chasing, according to the historian of the city Roger Tryon. Tryon writes a column called “Pages of History” for the weekly Laurel Advocate.

“People are still talking about it. It was the crime of the 20th century for Laurel, Tryon said. “I suspect what happened here this week will be the crime of the 21st century.”

Michele Ebeling’s daughter, Richele Ebeling, 31, of Oklahoma City, told The Associated Press that her mother moved to Laurel about two years ago with her boyfriend, who travels for work and doesn’t was not home when she was attacked.

“Honestly, it’s so weird and so surreal that I can’t even comprehend it,” she said, noting that she last spoke with her mother around 6:30 p.m. Wednesday by phone.

She said it was unclear whether her mother knew Jones or knew the Twiford family down the street.

The Twifords had been lifelong residents of Laurel, and almost everyone knew them.

Their next-door neighbours, Doug and Lynette Krie, said they didn’t hear anything like gunfire before dawn on Thursday. They were alerted around 9:30 a.m., when they spotted the town’s only law enforcement officer in their driveway, who said a passerby had noticed smoke coming from the Twifords’ home. The officer and the Kries then went to the Twifords’ home together to check the doors.

“They were all safe – and then I saw one of the doors in the back open,” Lynette Krie said.

The firefighters of the city’s volunteer service then intervened to find the origin of the smoke. When they came out, they fell to their knees. “That’s when I knew they were gone,” Krie said, fighting back tears.

But the Kries and many others in town didn’t learn of the shooting until later.

“We just assumed they died of smoke inhalation or something,” Doug Krie said. “Nobody expected that.”

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Associated Press reporters Scott McFetridge and David Pitt contributed to this report from Des Moines, Iowa.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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