The search for a family of four kidnapped in California ended Wednesday with authorities discovering the bodies of the family in a rural farm area, days after they were abducted.
Vern Warnke, the sheriff of Merced County, said during a news conference Wednesday night, “Our worst fears have been confirmed…Horribly, horribly senseless what happened here.”
The body of 8-month-old Aroohi Dheri was found in the same area as that of her parents Jasleen Kaur and Jasdeep Singh, as well as that of her uncle Amandeep Singh. Authorities received a call to the area Wednesday afternoon, he said.
The family has been missing since Monday, when authorities said they were forced into a vehicle by a gunman.
An individual considered to be a person of interest in the case has been taken into custody by the police. According to the sheriff, the man is speaking with authorities and a motive is not clear at this time.
A number of family members had appealed to the public for information regarding the case before the bodies were discovered.
“Every store, gas station and anyone who has cameras should check them,” Sukhdeep Singh, a brother of one of the victims, told reporters on Wednesday. “We need help from the public right now.” Help us… so my family can make it home safely.”
A relative named Balvinder described the family as “peace loving” and said they own a small business and have lived in the neighborhood for a long time.
It’s devastating. It’s shocking. Every moment we’re dying without finding any clues,” Balvinder said.
According to Warnke, the man in custody was convicted in 2005 of armed robbery and false imprisonment. In 2015, he was paroled. In the previous case, the man acted alone and knew the victims.
Warnke says at least one other person was involved in the kidnapping, but “we don’t have any evidence to support that.”
Earlier Wednesday, a video showed Jasdeep and Amandeep Singh arriving nine minutes apart at the family trucking business. Just before 9 a.m. on Monday, Jasdeep encounters a man outside the business who pulls out what looks like a gun from a trash bag.
Amandeep and Jasdeep, their hands tied behind their backs, are seen being led into the back of a truck by the gunman. It leaves and returns six minutes later.
When the gunman reenters the business, he’s seen taking Jasleen, who’s carrying baby Aroohi, to the pickup.
Authorities said a farmer found two of the victims’ cell phones on a road Monday. At one point, the farmer answered the phone and spoke with a relative of the victims.
A person of interest who attempted to take his own life at the hospital was sedated because he had been violent.
According to the district attorney’s office, no charges have been filed. It is not known who the man in custody is.
The investigation began Monday morning when the California Highway Patrol responded to a burning 2020 Dodge Ram and asked the Merced Police Department to assist in tracing its owner.
A short time later, at 12:35 p.m., Merced police officers arrived at the truck owner’s address and met with a family member. The officers attempted to contact the couple and the child’s uncle, but were unable to do so.
Later that afternoon, at 1:04 p.m., officers from the Merced County Sheriff’s Office responded to a business along South Highway 59. The sheriff’s office stated Tuesday that detectives determined that the individuals had been kidnapped during the initial investigation.
According to Deputy Alexandra Britton, public information officer for the sheriff’s office, the kidnapping involved a gun and restraints.
According to the sheriff’s office, the family was taken against their will from a business in the 800 block of South Highway 59 in Merced, which lies between Modesto and Fresno.
“There is no motivation behind it. “We just know they are gone,” Warnke stated in a Facebook video message.
According to Warnke, investigators collected evidence that indicates “the individuals involved in this case destroyed evidence in an effort to cover up their tracks.”
It was reported Tuesday that authorities had taken into custody a 48-year-old man as a person of interest in the investigation.
The man’s family contacted law enforcement and told them that the man admitted to being involved in the kidnapping. Following the family’s call, law enforcement made contact with the man.
To assist in the investigation, the Merced County Sheriff’s Office continues to encourage the public to contact them at 209-385-7547 with any information they may have regarding the incident. Additionally, the FBI and the California Department of Justice are investigating the matter.
According to the sheriff’s office, investigators learned Tuesday morning that an ATM card belonging to one of the victims was used at a bank in Atwater, California. Atwater is located approximately nine miles northwest of Merced. Britton said it is unclear whether the 48-year-old in custody is the person who used the card.
As a result of that transaction, investigators were able to identify the 48-year-old man as a person of interest in the case and took him into custody.
It is believed that the man attempted to take his life before law enforcement was able to intervene, and he is currently in critical condition, according to the sheriff’s office.
According to Alexandra Britton, a spokesperson for the sheriff’s office, authorities are working to confirm the suspect in custody is the same person they released photos of on Monday.
“The sheriff’s office obtained surveillance video of a subject making a bank transaction whose appearance is similar to that of the subject in the surveillance video from the original kidnapping scene,” the department stated.
It was reported Monday that the suspect had a shaved head and was last seen wearing a hooded sweatshirt. According to officials, he was considered to be armed and dangerous.
For more coverage on this story, check the following additional news sources:
- Kidnapped California family, including 8-month-old, found dead, sheriff says USA TODAY
- A kidnapped family of 4 has been found dead in California, authorities say CNN
- Surveillance video shows moment Merced family was kidnapped ABC7
- Merced kidnapping: All 4 bodies found, including 8-month-old, sheriff confirms KFSN-TV
- Merced, California kidnapping: Video shows family of four being taken at gunpoint KHOU 11