‘Our worst fears’: Kidnapped baby, parents and uncle found dead

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A baby girl, her parents and her uncle were found dead in a central California orchard two days after being abducted at gunpoint from their business, police said.

“Our worst fears have been confirmed,” Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke said at a press conference Wednesday night.

Warnke did not release any information about how and when police believe they were killed. He said the victims were close together when they were found by a farm worker in a remote area.

The grim announcement came after authorities released surveillance video on Wednesday 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.

Authorities said they were taken by a convicted thief who attempted suicide a day after the abductions. Jesus Salgado, 48, was in critical condition when he was arrested but spoke to police, Warnke said.

No motive for the abduction has been established, he said.

“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.

The four family members were pulled from their business in Merced, a town of 86,000 people about 200 miles southeast of San Francisco in the San Joaquin Valley, California’s agricultural heartland.

Relatives of Salgado have contacted authorities to tell them he confessed to being involved in the kidnapping, Warnke told KFSN-TV 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.

Investigators were trying to uncover a motive for the murders, 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 death, the sheriff said.

“We’re hoping they can now at least have some sort 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 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 missing persons. 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.

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 had told KXTV-TV 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 answered it when the family called him.

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Dazio reported from Los Angeles. News Researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this report.

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