Kidnapped California family, including baby, found dead
The sheriff of Merced County in California says a baby girl and three other family members who were kidnapped at gunpoint have been found dead.
Sheriff Vern Warnke announced Wednesday that the bodies were found in a Merced County orchard and told reporters: “Our worst fears have been confirmed.”
The announcement came after authorities released surveillance video of a man kidnapping 8-month-old Aroohi Dheri, her parents and uncle from their business Monday in Merced in the San Joaquin Valley southeast of San Francisco.
Authorities earlier said the four were taken by a convicted robber who tried to kill himself a day after the kidnappings. The kidnapper made no ransom demands but the sheriff has said he believes it was a financially motivated crime.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Relatives of a family kidnapped at gunpoint from their trucking business in central California pleaded for help Wednesday in the search for an 8-month-old girl, her mother, father and uncle, who authorities say were taken by a convicted robber who tried to kill himself a day after the kidnappings.
Authorities at a news conference Wednesday showed surveillance video of a man kidnapping the baby, Aroohi Dheri; the child’s mother, Jasleen Kaur, 27; father Jasdeep Singh, 36; and uncle Amandeep Singh, 39, from their business in Merced, a city of 86,000 people about 125 miles (200 kilometers) southeast of San Francisco in the San Joaquin Valley, California’s agricultural heartland.
The video showed the suspect first walking by the property before talking to one of the men. Later, it shows him leading the men, who had their hands zip-tied behind their backs, into the back seat of Amandeep Singh’s pickup truck. The suspect then went back to the trailer that served as the business office and led Jasdeep Singh, who was carrying her baby in her arms, out and into the truck before the suspect then drove away.
Family members said nothing was stolen from the trucking company but that their relatives were all wearing jewelry. Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke said that after the kidnappings, an ATM card belonging to one of the victims was used in Atwater, a city about 9 miles (14 kilometers) north of Merced.
Warnke said the kidnapper made no ransom demands in what he believes was a financially motivated crime.
Relatives of the victims asked anyone who owns a convenience store or gas station in the area to check their surveillance cameras for images of the suspect or the family. They said they were worried the baby wasn’t being fed because the family didn’t have any baby food with them at the time of the kidnapping.
“Please help us out, come forward, so my family comes home safe,” Sukhdeep Singh, a brother of the victims, said, his voice breaking.
Relatives of Jesus Salgado, 48, contacted authorities reporting that he had admitted to them he was involved with the kidnapping, Warnke told KFSN-TV on Tuesday. Salgado tried to take his own life before police arrived at a home in Atwater, and he has since been hospitalized, he said.
Efforts to reach Salgado’s family were unsuccessful Wednesday.
Warnke said detectives have not been able to speak to Salgado, who has been under medical sedation in the hospital, but they are hoping to do so Wednesday with the help of doctors.
“I can tell you that every time he has even come near consciousness he has been violent,” Warnke said.
Warnke said he hopes Salgado decides to cooperate with law enforcement and lead them to the family.
“First and foremost, we want the family back,” he said. “I’m not worried about court right now, we’ll deal with court later.”
Salgado was previously convicted of first-degree robbery with the use of a firearm in Merced County, as well as attempted false imprisonment and an attempt to prevent or dissuade a victim or witness. He was sentenced to 11 years in state prison in that case, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
He was released from prison in 2015 and discharged from parole three years later. He also has a conviction for possession of a controlled substance, the corrections agency said.
Investigators have not found a link between Salgado and the family to show they knew each other before the kidnapping.
“As of right now, we believe it was random,” Deputy Alexandra Britton said. “We don’t have evidence to prove otherwise.”
Family members told KXTV-TV that the office for Unison Trucking Inc., the family’s business, had only opened about a week earlier.
“My husband is very peaceful and calm person. We don’t have any clue why they kidnapped them,” said Jaspreet Caur, wife of the kidnapped uncle.
The sheriff said detectives believe the kidnapper destroyed unspecified evidence in an attempt to cover his tracks.
The sheriff’s office said that firefighters on Monday found Amandeep Singh’s truck on fire. Merced Police Department officers went to Amandeep Singh’s home, where a family member tried to reach him and the couple. When they were not able to reach their family members, they called the Merced County Sheriff’s office to report them missing, the office said.
Merced County Undersheriff Corey Gibson said a farmer found a phone belonging to one of the victims on a street in Dos Palos, a town 30 miles (48 kilometers) southwest of Merced, and answered it when the family called it.
Warnke said that while detectives have not established any motive or determined whether Salgado worked with any accomplices, he believes the suspect was driven by money and colluded with someone else.
“I fully believe that there was at least one other person involved,” the sheriff said, noting that he does not have any evidence to back that up.
He added: “My speculation is that it’s financial.”
The sheriff’s office said the FBI, the California Department of Justice, and other local law enforcement agencies are helping with the investigation.
Dazio reported from Los Angeles. News Researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York also contributed to this report.