SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The suspect in the kidnapping and murder of an 8-month-old baby, his parents and an uncle had worked for the family’s trucking company and had a longstanding feud with them that has resulted in an act of “pure evil”. a sheriff said Thursday.
The bodies of Aroohi Dheri; his mother Jasleen Kaur, 27; father Jasdeep Singh, 36; and uncle Amandeep Singh, 39, were found Wednesday night by a farmhand in an almond orchard in a remote area of the San Joaquin Valley in the heartland of California agriculture.
Investigators were preparing a case against the suspect – a convicted felon who had attempted suicide a day after the abductions – and were looking for a person of interest believed to be his accomplice. Parents and other members of the Punjabi Sikh community, meanwhile, were shocked by the killings.
“Right now, I have hundreds of people in a community mourning the loss of two families, and that’s around the world. Those families are on different continents,” the Merced County Sheriff said. Vern Warnke, Associated Press “We have to show them that we can do them justice.”
The suspect, Jesus Salgado, 48, was released from the hospital and taken to the county jail Thursday night on suspicion of kidnapping and murder, the sheriff’s office said. It was unclear if he had an attorney who could speak on his behalf.
Previously, Warnke had called on prosecutors to seek the death penalty. The sheriff called it one of the worst crimes he had seen in his 43 years in law enforcement and pleaded for Salgado’s accomplice to turn himself in.
“There are things you will take to the grave. For me, it was pure evil,” he said in an interview Thursday.
The town of Merced, where the family’s trucking business was located, will hold nightly vigils in their memory Thursday through Sunday. The bodies of the victims were found near the town of Dos Palos, about 50 kilometers south of Merced.
Warnke on Thursday would not discuss the condition of the adult remains in the orchard, but said it was unclear how the baby died. Warnke said the child had no visible trauma and an autopsy will be performed.
Salgado has previously been convicted of first-degree robbery with the use of a firearm in Merced County, attempted wrongful imprisonment, and attempting to restrain or deter a victim or witness. Sentenced to 11 years in state prison in the case, he was released in 2015 and released from parole three years later, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. He was also convicted of possession of a controlled substance, the department said.
Relatives of Salgado contacted authorities and told them he had admitted to them his involvement in the kidnapping, Warnke said KFSN-TV tuesday. Salgado attempted to kill himself before police arrived at a home in Atwater – where an ATM card belonging to one of the victims was used after the kidnapping – about 14 kilometers north of Merced . Efforts to contact Salgado’s family were unsuccessful on Thursday.
The victims were Punjabi Sikhs, a community in central California that has a significant presence in the trucking industry, with many driving trucks, owning trucking companies or other trucking-related businesses.
Public records show the family owns Unison Trucking Inc. and relatives said they opened an office in recent weeks in a parking lot the Singh brothers also operated. The feud with Salgado dates back a year, the sheriff said, and “got pretty nasty” in texts or emails. Further details about Salgado’s employment and the nature of the dispute were not immediately available.
Warnke said he believed the family had been killed less than an hour after the Monday morning abduction, when they were taken away at gunpoint by their company.
Surveillance video showed the suspect – later identified as Salgado – driving the Singh brothers, who had their hands tied behind their backs, into the back seat of Amandeep Singh’s van. He chased the brothers away and returned a few minutes later.
The suspect then returned to the trailer that served as the business office and led Jasleen Kaur, who was carrying her baby, outside and into the truck before the suspect chased them away shortly before 9:30 a.m.
Hours later, firefighters found Amandeep Singh’s truck on fire in the town of Winton, 10 miles north of Merced, on Monday. Police attended Amandeep Singh’s home, where a family member tried to reach him and the couple. When they couldn’t reach their family members, they called the sheriff to report them missing.
They were probably already dead.
Dazio reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writer Robert Jablon in Los Angeles and news researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this report.