A little girl, her parents and her uncle who were kidnapped at gunpoint from their Central California business two days ago were found dead on Wednesday, the Merced County Sheriff said.
“Our worst fears have been confirmed,” Sheriff Vern Warnke told reporters Wednesday night.
A farm worker found the bodies close together in a Merced County orchard, he said.
The announcement came after authorities released surveillance video of a man abducting 8-month-old Aroohi Dheri; his mother Jasleen Kaur, 27; father Jasdeep Singh, 36; and uncle Amandeep Singh, 39, on Monday.
The Merced County Sheriff’s Office is holding a press conference to update the community on the kidnapped family found dead on Wednesday.
Authorities said they were taken by a convicted thief who attempted suicide a day after the abductions.
“There are no words right now to describe the anger I feel and the senselessness of this incident,” Warnke said. “I said it earlier: there’s a special place in hell for this guy.”
Investigators, including California Department of Justice crime lab technicians, would process the crime scene overnight, Warnke said. He did not immediately provide further details.
The family members were pulled from their business in Merced, a town of 86,000 about 200 miles southeast of San Francisco in the San Joaquin Valley, California’s agricultural heartland.
Relatives of Jesus Salgado, 48, contacted authorities to tell them he had confessed to them that he was involved in the kidnapping, Warnke told a local station on Tuesday. Salgado attempted suicide before police arrived at a house near Atwater, and he has since been hospitalized.
Efforts to reach Salgado’s family were unsuccessful on Wednesday.
Video released earlier on Wednesday showed the suspect first walking past the property before speaking to one of the men. Later it shows him driving the men, who had their hands tied behind their backs, into the back seat of Amandeep Singh’s van. The suspect then returned to the trailer that served as his business office and led Jasdeep Singh, who was carrying his baby in his arms, outside and into the truck before the suspect drove off.
Family members said nothing was stolen from the trucking company, but their loved ones were all wearing jewelry. Warnke had said that after the kidnappings, an ATM card belonging to one of the victims was used in Atwater, about 14 kilometers north of Merced.
Warnke said the kidnapper made no ransom demands in what he believed to be a financially motivated crime.
Relatives of the victims had previously asked anyone who owns a convenience store or gas station in the area to check their surveillance cameras for footage of the suspect or family. They said they feared the baby would not be fed because the family had no baby food with them at the time of the abduction.
“Please help us, move on, so that my family can come home safely,” said Sukhdeep Singh, a brother of the victims, his voice cracking.
The Merced County Sheriff’s Office released footage of the abduction of four family members at gunpoint in Merced, California.
At the previous press conference, Warnke said detectives were unable to speak to Salgado, who was medically sedated in hospital, but hoped to do so on Wednesday with the help of medics.
“I can tell you that every time he got close to consciousness he was violent,” Warnke said.
Salgado has previously been convicted of first-degree robbery with the use of a firearm in Merced County, as well as attempted wrongful imprisonment and attempting to restrain or deter 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 released on parole three years later. He was also convicted of possession of a controlled substance, the prison agency said.
Investigators have not found a connection between Salgado and the family to show that they knew each other before the abduction.
“At the moment, we think it was hit and miss,” deputy Alexandra Britton said. “We have no evidence to prove otherwise.”
Family members told a Sacramento television station that the office of Unison Trucking Inc., the family business, had only opened a week earlier.
“My husband is a very peaceful and calm person. We have no idea 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 firefighters found Amandeep Singh’s truck on fire Monday. Merced Police Department officers attended Amandeep Singh’s home, where a family member attempted to reach him and the couple. When they were unable to reach 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 southwest of Merced, and found it there. answered when the family called him.
Warnke said that while detectives have not established a motive or determined whether Salgado was working with accomplices, he believes the suspect was motivated by money and colluded with someone else.
Stefanie Dazio reported from Los Angeles. Press researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York also contributed to this report.