San Francisco — The suspect in the kidnapping and murder of an 8-month-old baby, her parents and an uncle worked for the family trucking business and had a long-running feud with them that culminated in an act of “pure evil,” a sheriff said Thursday.
The bodies of Aroohi Dheri. her mother Jasleen Kaur, 27; father Jasdeep Singh, 36; and uncle Amandeep Singh, 39, waslate Wednesday in an almond orchard in a remote area of the San Joaquin Valley, California’s rural heartland.
Investigators were building a case against the suspect – a convicted felon who tried to kill himself a day after the abductions – and sought a person of interest believed to be his accomplice.
The suspect, 48-year-old Jesus Salgado, was released from the hospital and booked into the county jail Thursday night on four counts of kidnapping and murder, according to the sheriff’s office. It was unclear if he had a lawyer who could speak on his behalf.
Relatives and members of the Punjabi Sikh community, meanwhile, were shocked by the killings.
“Right now, I have hundreds of people in a community grieving the loss of two families, and that’s worldwide. These families are on different continents,” Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke told The Associated Press. “We have to show them that we can give them justice.”
Earlier, Warnke asked prosecutors to seek the death penalty. The sheriff called it one of the worst crimes he has seen in his 43 years in law enforcement and asked Salgado’s accomplice to surrender.
“There are some things you take to the grave. This to me was pure evil,” he said in an interview Thursday.
The city of Merced, where the family’s trucking business was located, will hold evening vigils in their memory through Sunday.
The victims’ bodies were found near the town of Dos Palos, about 30 miles south of Merced.
Warnke on Thursday would not discuss the condition of the remains of the adults at 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.
He said earlier that the victims were found “relatively close to each other”.
The sheriff emphasized that they were in a “very rural rural area, not many people come out here.”
Salgado had previous convictions for first-degree robbery with a firearm in Merced County, attempted false imprisonment and attempting to deter or deter a victim or witness. He was sentenced to 11 years in state prison in that case, released in 2015 and eligible for 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.
Relatives of Salgado contacted authorities and told them he had admitted his involvement in the kidnapping, Warnke told KFSN-TV on Tuesday. Salgado tried 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 abduction — about 9 miles north of Merced.
Attempts to reach Salgado’s family were unsuccessful Thursday.
The victims were Punjabi Sikhs, a community in central California that has a significant presence in the trucking industry, with many of them 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 also operated by the Singh brothers. The feud with Salgado dates back a year, the sheriff said, and “got really ugly” in text messages or emails. Other details about Salgado’s employment and the nature of the dispute were not immediately available.
Warnke said he believes the family was killed within an hour of the Monday morning kidnapping, when they were taken at gunpoint from their business.
the suspect—later identified as Salgado—leads the Singh brothers, who had their hands zipped behind their backs, into the back seat of Amandeep Singh’s truck. He chased the brothers away and returned several minutes later.
The suspect then returned to the trailer that served as the business office and led Jasleen Kaur, who was holding her baby in her arms, out and into the truck before the suspect drove them away just before 9:30 a.m. .
Hours later, firefighters on Monday found Amandeep Singh’s truck burning in the town of Winton, 10 miles north of Merced. Officers went to Amandeep Singh’s home, where a family member tried to approach him and the couple. When they were unable to contact their family members, they called the sheriff to report them missing.
They were probably already dead.