Jim Jasa intentionally blew up his own house to kill himself and his wife, Jeanne Jasa, last summer in an explosion that shook the city and rained debris across southeast Lincoln, Police Chief Jeff Bliemeister said Thursday.
The chief described the case as a murder-suicide — a conclusion that followed 13 months of work by investigators from multiple agencies — but he didn't release further details on their findings, citing an ongoing tort claim against the city filed by Jeanne Jasa's children.
"We express our deepest condolences to the Jasa family," Bliemeister told reporters during a morning news conference.
The natural gas explosion on Aug. 14, 2017, fatally wounded the couple, obliterated the Jasas' home at 5601 S. 78th St., damaged 33 other homes and led to a prolonged police and fire investigation into its cause.
Investigators quickly ruled out problems with gas delivery or other issues on the part of natural gas provider Black Hills Energy, and instead focused on the Jasas themselves, who were the only two people inside when the explosion happened.
Evidence was analyzed at a federal fire investigation laboratory in Maryland, and other outside experts were consulted.
Still, precisely how police reached their conclusion remains unclear.
The Jasas' two adult children were given an overview of the case and an invitation to discuss it in further detail, said Omaha attorney Brian Jorde, who represents daughter Amy Roche, the personal representative for Jeanne Jasa's estate.
"I didn’t hear anything that jumped out at me that really changed my opinion," Jorde said in an interview Thursday morning.
He declined to detail the evidence police cited, saying he wanted to respect the process as police have agreed to limit what they're sharing.
But he pointed to why he still had questions about the incident.
Neither of the Jasas could be interviewed by police before they died, Jorde said.
The explosion destroyed the home but also much of the evidence, he said, and he's not sure why two months after the death certificates were issued listing the manner of death as undetermined there was now a change.
"We're going to sit down and get all the information," he said.
The Journal Star submitted public records requests Thursday for the case file and related investigative reports, since the case is now closed. Those requests are still under consideration.
As police notified the Jasas' family, they also knocked on doors in the neighborhood to inform residents affected by the blast about the case's conclusion.
"They deserved to know what our investigation found,” Bliemeister said.
The home south of the Jasas was razed because of the damage. Four other homes had damage so significant the residents were displaced for several months.
But neighbors contacted by police Wednesday told the Journal Star they weren't given any details about the murder-suicide determination.
"I tried to press him a little bit," Kelly Beatty said of the investigator who dropped by his house Wednesday. "And he said, 'Well I can’t go into that.'"
The investigation moved along quietly, with few updates beyond news of the Jasas' deaths.
Jeanne Jasa, 66, died 15 days after the explosion, on Aug. 29. Her husband, 67, died May 2, 2018.
On Sept. 24, 2018, the agencies involved met to conduct a final review of the case, the chief said.
Their review of the evidence and timeline concluded Jim Jasa intended to kill himself in the blast, Bliemeister said.
“Nothing has surfaced that would suggest that (Jeanne) had any knowledge of this preceding that day in August," the chief said at a news conference.
Lancaster County Attorney Pat Condon, who serves as the coroner, said the death certificates were issued first with an undetermined manner of death for both of the Jasas so they could be finalized to be used in estate matters, and the decision to change them came after further investigation.
Bill Moody, the city's chief fire investigator, said a review of the house's gas records didn't show any concerning trends or give him any indication the usage should have been more closely monitored.
The explosion's size indicates the gas that caused the blast, which has a chemical marker that smells like rotten eggs, had been leaking for hours, Moody has said.
“In this particular case it just pretty much disintegrated the entire structure,” Moody said Thursday.
The Jasas, who married in 1972, bought the one-story home in 1997.
Jeanne Jasa worked for more than 20 years in Lincoln Public Schools' behavioral skills program before retiring in 2013 to spend more time with her grandchildren, her friends said last year.
Jim "Jimmy" Jasa was a retired foreman with Burlington Northern Railroad.
The tort claim filed by Jeanne Jasa's children accuses the city, Lancaster County and Black Hills of negligently causing her death.
At the time, Jorde said the absence of criminal charges against anyone in the case "leads us to believe the city/county does not believe this explosion was anything other than a terrible accident that never should have occurred."
The claim seeks at least $2 million in damages for Jeanne Jasa's pain and suffering, at least $2 million for her wrongful death and at least $75,000 for her medical bills.
The Lincoln City Council has not ruled on that tort claim.
Jorde said the family will make the ultimate determination on further legal action after they meet with police: "They’ll be the deciders irrespective of what the evidence may or may not be."
Words don't really exist to adequately describe what the Jasas' children have experienced in the last year, the attorney said.
They're grieving over their loss, he said, "and now have this kind of cloud hanging over it."