By STEFANIE DAZIO and OLGA R. RODRIGUEZ – Associated Press
The suspect in the kidnapping and murder of a central California family was a former employee who had a long-running dispute with them that “got pretty nasty,” a sheriff said Thursday.
Relatives of the slain family told investigators that Jesus Salgado, 48, had sent angry texts or emails about a year ago after working with his trucking business, the Sheriff County Sheriff told The Associated Press. Mercy, Vern Warnke.
Salgado allegedly kidnapped an 8-month-old baby, his parents and his uncle at gunpoint in Merced on Monday and killed them and left their bodies in an almond orchard shortly afterward, authorities said. The bodies were discovered by a farm worker Wednesday night in the remote area near the town of Dos Palos, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of Merced.
Investigators are also looking for a person of interest who may have acted as an accomplice to Salgado, the sheriff said.
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Warnke said he believed in family: Aroohi Dheri, 8 months; her mother Jasleen Kaur, 27; Father Jasdeep Singh, 36; and uncle Amandeep Singh, 39, were killed before relatives reported them missing on Monday.
Authorities said the kidnapper was a convicted robber who attempted suicide a day after the kidnappings. Salgado was in critical condition when he was arrested, but he has been talking to police, Warnke said.
“There are no words at this time to describe the anger I feel and the senselessness of this incident,” Warnke said. “I’ve said it before, there’s a special place in hell for this guy.”
The four family members were driven from their business in Merced, a city of 86,000 about 125 miles (200 kilometers) southeast of San Francisco in the San Joaquin Valley, California’s agricultural heartland.
Surveillance video released showed the suspect first walking around the property before speaking to one of the men. Later, he shows him leading the men, who had their hands tied behind their backs, into the back seat of Amandeep Singh’s truck. The suspect then returned to the trailer that served as a business office and led Jasleen Kaur, who was carrying his baby, out and into the truck before the suspect chased them away.
Family members said they did not steal anything from the trucking company, but that all of their relatives wore jewelry. Warnke had said that after the abductions, an ATM card belonging to one of the victims was used in Atwater, about 9 miles (14 kilometers) north of Merced.
Public records show the family owns Unison Trucking Inc. and family members said they had opened an office in recent weeks in a parking lot also operated by the Singh brothers. Authorities said they were taken from his office.
The victims were Punjabi Sikhs, a community in central California that has a significant presence in the trucking business and many of them drive trucks, own trucking companies or other businesses associated with trucking.
Family members on Wednesday asked store owners or gas stations in the area to check their surveillance cameras for images of the suspect or the missing.
“Please help us, come forward, so that my family can return home safely,” said Sukhdeep Singh, the victims’ brother, his voice cracking.
Salgado’s relatives contacted authorities and told them that he had admitted his involvement in the kidnapping, Warnke told KFSN-TV on Tuesday. Salgado tried to take his own life before police arrived at a home in nearby Atwater. Since then he has been hospitalized.
Efforts to contact Salgado’s family were unsuccessful Thursday.
Salgado was previously convicted of first-degree robbery with the use of a firearm in Merced County, attempted false imprisonment, and an attempt to prevent or deter a victim or witness. Sentenced to 11 years in state prison there, he was released in 2015 and released from parole three years later, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. He also has a conviction for possession of a controlled substance, the department said.
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 went to Amandeep Singh’s home, where a family member tried to contact him and the couple. When they couldn’t reach his relatives, they called the Merced County Sheriff’s Office to report him missing, the office said.
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.
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