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Four found dead, foul play suspected in two Cedar County fires

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Police suspect foul play in two overnight fires that killed four people in the small northeast Nebraska town of Laurel.

Four people in two homes within three blocks of each other died in house fires in the early morning hours on Thursday. Col. John Bolduc, the superintendent of law enforcement and public safety for the Nebraska State Patrol, said during a Thursday afternoon press conference that accelerants may have been used in both fires.

Investigators who examined the crime scenes later determined that gunfire “is suspected to have played a part in the incidents at both homes,” the patrol said in a Thursday night press release.

Nebraska Deaths

Two house fires occurred early Thursday three blocks apart on this stretch of Elm Street in Laurel, Nebraska. Four bodies were found in the houses, and the Nebraska State Patrol said each appeared to have gunshot wounds. 

Just after 3 a.m. Thursday, Cedar County 911 received a phone call reporting an explosion and fire at 209 Elm St. in Laurel. Inside, one person was found dead.

While crews were on the scene of the first fire, another fire was reported three blocks away at 503 Elm St. Fire crews and law enforcement found three dead people in the home.

Fire investigators think the fire at 503 Elm may have started around the same time as the explosion at 209 Elm — around 3 a.m., the patrol said.

Both residences were single-family homes. Police did not release the names, ages or causes of death for any of the victims. They also did not say whether any of the victims were related to one another. Autopsies have been ordered to determine if the victims were killed by the fire or beforehand.

“Firefighters 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.”

When asked if the community of Laurel was in danger, Cedar County Sheriff Larry Koranda urged the public to be “diligent.”

“Everybody knows everybody in this small community,” Koranda said. “I think people just need to be diligent. If you see something out of order, please call.”

Nebraska Deaths

Barricades block off a portion of Elm Street in Laurel where four people were found dead Thursday. A man who lives on the street has been arrested on suspicion of homicide.  

No arrests have been made. Police said that whoever set the fires may have suffered burns.

A silver sedan was seen leaving Laurel westbound on U.S. Highway 20 at some point after the second fire was set, according to the patrol. The driver may have picked up a passenger before leaving the city. He is being sought as a person of interest.

Patrol officials asked residents who saw anything out of the ordinary between midnight and 4 a.m. Thursday to report it immediately. Officials also are looking for security camera footage in Laurel and surrounding areas and ask that members of the public come forward if they have video from early Thursday morning. Any information about the incident should be reported to the State Patrol at 402-479-4921.

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