Riley Tolan-Keig/The Norfolk Daily News via AP
LAUREL, Neb. – Four people were found dead Thursday in two burning homes in a small community in northeast Nebraska, authorities said.
Nebraska State Patrol Col. John Bolduc told a news conference that a man was seen walking away from the town of Laurel before the bodies were found and that the investigators would like to speak to him.
Firefighters responding to a call Thursday morning about an explosion and fire in one of the homes found the body of one person inside, Bolduc said.
Shortly after, firefighters were called to a second burning house a few blocks away, where the bodies of three people were found inside.
Authorities did not release the names of the dead or explain how they died, but they said witnesses reported seeing a man leave Laurel in a silver car. Bolduc called the man a suspect in the deaths and said he may have picked up a passenger on his way out of town.
Investigators believe whoever started the fires may have suffered burns, Bolduc added.
He wouldn’t say how or if the victims were related and declined to speculate on the circumstances that led to the murders.
“We don’t categorize it as anything right now,” Bolduc said.
Laurel is home to fewer than 1,000 people and is located about 100 miles northwest of Omaha.
“Laurel is a very safe community,” Cedar County Sheriff Larry Koranda said. “It shakes everyone up.”
Most businesses, a senior center and schools in the community voluntarily closed when the bodies were discovered. It came on the recommendation of the city’s only police officer, said Lori Hansen, office assistant at Laurel City Hall. But even community leaders were scrambling for information on what was happening in the normally quiet town, she said.
“We’ve been watching TV to try to find out what’s going on,” Hansen said.