Col. John Bolduc of the Nebraska State Patrol said “foul play is suspected” in the deaths, local US media including News Nation said.
According to Bolduc, firefighters responded to a 911 call about an explosion just after 3 a.m. at a residence where they discovered one deceased individual.
While responding to that scene, firefighters were alerted to a second burning home “a few blocks away.” Three people were found dead at the second scene, according to Bolduc.
Authorities didn’t release the names of the dead or say how they died, but they said witnesses reported seeing a man leaving Laurel in a silver car. Bolduc referred to the man as a suspect in the deaths and said he may have picked up a passenger on the way out of town.
Police asked for the public’s assistance in developing leads, saying investigators believe whoever set the fires may have suffered burns. They also believe accelerants were used.
Most businesses, a senior center, and schools voluntarily went on lockdown earlier in the day at the recommendation of police, said Lori Hansen, a clerical assistant at Laurel City Hall.
Officials with hazmat suits could be seen walking toward the scene early Thursday morning.
Laurel is home to fewer than 1,000 people and is located about 100 miles northwest of Omaha.
“Laurel is a very safe community,” said Cedar County Sheriff Larry Koranda. “It shakes everybody up.”
Authorities are requesting that anyone who may have any information, including potential surveillance video, contact the Nebraska State Patrol. NSP asked to be contacted by phone at 402-479-4921.