Police said they suspected foul play after four people were found dead Thursday following early morning fires in two homes in the town of Laurel, Nebraska.
Just after 3 a.m., Cedar County 911 received a phone call about an explosion at a home, Nebraska State Patrol’s John Bolduc said during a news conference. When fire crews arrived, they discovered a body inside.
While investigators were on the scene, a second fire was reported a few blocks away, where authorities found “three individuals deceased inside of that residence,” Bolduc said.
“Fire crews have worked diligently to put out the fire but also to preserve evidence that may be located inside the home,” Bolduc said. “Our investigators are processing that second scene at this time.”
The deaths were suspicious, according to Bolduc.
“Shortly after the second fire was reported, law enforcement received a report that a silver sedan had been seen leaving the town of Laurel,” he said. “This vehicle was reported westbound on Highway 20,” said Bolduc. It was reportedly driven by a male. The report also said the vehicle may have picked up a passenger before leaving town.
Fire investigators believe accelerants may have been used in both fires, and anyone who was inside the home may have been burned.
“Therefore, it is possible that our suspect or suspects received burn injuries during these incidents,” Bolduc said.
Authorities are asking anyone with information or video to contact them.
No cause or motive has been established at this time, Bolduc said. No information was provided about the victims.
James Roberts, who has owned Laurel’s Hometown Market for more than a year, said that news of the deaths had shocked the small town.
“Stuff like this doesn’t happen in this town,” Roberts said. “Everybody here knows everybody.”
He said the grocery store has delivered food to the state troopers and firefighters who responded to the scene and are stationed at a nearby church. Staff packed up hamburgers and sandwiches including sloppy joes in addition to some water to show their support.
Roberts predicted the town would recover from the tragedy. “It’s a tight-knit town. Everybody here is family.”
Laurel has a population of around 1,000 people and is located in Cedar County in the northeast of the state.