SAN FRANCISCO: A baby girl, her parents and uncle who were kidnapped at gunpoint from their central California business two days ago were found dead on Wednesday, the sheriff of Merced County said.
“Our worst fears have been confirmed," Sheriff Vern Warnke told reporters Wednesday night.
About 5:30 p.m., a farmworker found the bodies close together in a Merced County orchard in an "extremely" rural and remote area, he said.
The announcement came after authorities released surveillance video of a man kidnapping 8-month-old Aroohi Dheri; her mother Jasleen Kaur, 27; father Jasdeep Singh, 36; and uncle Amandeep Singh, 39, on Monday.
Authorities said they were taken by a convicted robber who tried to kill himself a day after the kidnappings.
“There’s 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 crime lab technicians from the California Department of Justice, would be processing the crime scene through the night, Warnke said. He didn't immediately supply other details.
Investigators were trying to discover a motive for the slayings, the sheriff said.
“We have a whole family wiped out and for what? We don’t know yet,” he said.
Relatives had been notified of the deaths, the sheriff said.
“We’re hoping that they can now at least have some kind of closure,” Warnke said, adding: “It’s not the closure we were hoping for; it’s not the closure they were hoping for.”
The family members were taken from their business in Merced, a city of 86,000 people about 125 miles (200 kilometres) southeast of San Francisco in the San Joaquin Valley, California’s agricultural heartland.
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 nearby Atwater, and he has since been hospitalized.
Warnke said Salgado has talked to investigators but he didn't provide details.
Efforts to reach Salgado’s family were unsuccessful Wednesday.
The video released earlier Wednesday 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 jewellery. Warnke had said that after the kidnappings, an ATM card belonging to one of the victims was used in Atwater, about 9 miles (14 kilometres) north of Merced.
Warnke said the kidnapper made no ransom demands.
Relatives of the victims had earlier 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.
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 kilometres) southwest of Merced, and answered it when the family called it.