A baby girl, her parents and uncle were found dead in a central California orchard two days after they were kidnapped at gunpoint from their business, police said.
“Our worst fears have been confirmed,” Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke said at a Wednesday night news conference.
Warnke did not release any information about how and when police believe they were killed. He said the victims were close to each other when found by a farm worker in a remote area.
The grim announcement came after authorities earlier Wednesday 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. Jesus Salgado, 48, was in critical condition when taken into custody but has been talking to police, Warnke said.
No motive for the kidnapping has been established, he said.
“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.
The four family members were taken from their business in Merced, a city of 86,000 people about 125 miles southeast of San Francisco in the San Joaquin Valley, California’s agricultural heartland.
Relatives of Salgado 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.
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 Jasleen Kaur, 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. Warnke had said that after the kidnappings, an ATM card belonging to one of the victims was used in Atwater, about 9 miles (14 kilometers) north of Merced.
Warnke said the kidnapper made no ransom demands.
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 of the victims 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.”
Family members 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 those missing. 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 had 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 southwest of Merced, and answered it when the family called it.