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Community waiting as fatal Bridger casino fire investigation continues

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Posted at 11:50 AM, May 06, 2022

BRIDGER - A fire at a casino in Bridger that claimed the lives of two people is now being investigated as a homicide, and many in the community are asking questions about how it happened and who may have committed those murders.

A shroud of mystery hovers over Honest Tom's Casino as a community waits to learn exactly what happened on April 20.

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A fire devoured the inside of the building. The bodies of 71-year-old Marla Murray and 33-year-old John Ahles were found inside, and their deaths are now being called suspicious.

"Everybody knew Marla," Bridger Police Chief Mike Buechler said Thursday. "She opened up the casino and she was there Monday through Friday. J.T., he was a Dollar Store employee before, and he's kind of a techie. So he knows how to fix the technical side of things. He also worked at Honest Tom's. He worked there at night as a casino guy. And then he also did all of the Honest Tom's security system."

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Investigators have released very little information other than to say the deaths are being investigated as a joint homicide. No suspects have been identified. That lack of information has the whole town on edge.

"It's a small town and they're close-knit," Buechler said about community. "Everybody knows everybody. And until we can actually sit down and go over and tell everybody what forensics has found and what there is to tell, I don't have any answers at the moment."

It's still unclear whether Murray or Ahles died in the fire or were killed before.

Bridger Mayor Clifford Schultz told MTN News that many in the community are disappointed, sad and struggling. That includes the families of Murray and Ahles, who grieve without knowing the true stories behind their deaths.

"Again, they're looking for closure also," Buechler said. "When we are able to give them that closure we will."