SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The younger brother of a man suspected of kidnapping and killing an 8-month-old baby, her parents and an uncle has been arrested on suspicion of helping his brother destroy evidence, authorities said Friday .
Alberto Salgado, 41, was arrested late Thursday and charged with criminal conspiracy, escorting and destroying evidence, the Merced County Sheriff’s Office said. He is being held at the Merced County Jail — the same place where suspect Jesus Salgado, 48, is being held on kidnapping and murder charges. It was unclear if either brother had a lawyer who could speak on their behalf.
The bodies of Aroohi Dheri. her mother Jasleen Kaur, 27; father Jasdeep Singh, 36; and uncle Amandeep Singh, 39, were found by a farm worker late Wednesday in an almond orchard in a remote area of the San Joaquin Valley, California’s rural heartland.
Jesus Salgado — a convicted felon who tried to kill himself a day after the kidnappings — worked for the family’s trucking business and had a long-standing feud with them, Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke told The Associated Press on Thursday.
He was treated at a hospital before being taken to prison. Warnke had said detectives were also looking for a person of interest believed to be his accomplice.
Relatives of the victims and colleagues in the Punjabi Sikh community were shocked by the killings.
Jaspreet Kaur, Amandeep Singh’s widow, said in a GoFundMe fundraiser that her husband and his brother had been in the United States for 18 years, supporting not only their families in California but also their elderly parents in India.
“This is the story of our shared American dream gone wrong,” he wrote. “Our beloved family was violently taken from us on October 3rd.”
Kaur said her husband regularly donated food to the local food bank and never missed a Sunday service at the local Sikh temple. They had a 9-year-old daughter and an 8-year-old son.
The baby’s parents were married three years ago in India and reunited two years ago after her mother immigrated to the US, he said.
At a vigil Thursday afternoon in downtown Merced, hundreds of people held lit candles and formed a circle around enlarged photos of the victims. Religious leaders of different faiths opened the ceremony with prayers for the family, the Merced Sun-Star reported.
“Tonight the community came together and showed the Singh family that ‘we are here with you and we will be here with you for as long as you need us and we will remember the names of those we lost,'” Priya Lakireddy told the newspaper.
The city of Merced, where the family lived and had their trucking business, will hold evening vigils in their memory through Sunday.
The elder Salgado was previously convicted of first-degree robbery with a firearm in Merced County, attempted false imprisonment and attempting to hinder or hinder a victim or witness after he held a family he worked for at gunpoint and forced them to follow his orders almost 20 years ago.
Salgado worked for the family’s trucking company but was fired in 2004 because the family suspected he had stolen money, family members told the Los Angeles Times.
On the night of Dec. 19, 2005, he appeared at their home wearing a mask and held a gun to his father’s head and bound his hands with duct tape, his daughter Katrina, then 16, recalled and asked the newspaper not to use the her last name.
Salgado rounded up the family, as well as a friend of Katrina’s who was visiting, and took them to the garage, where the family kept a safe with cash and jewelry, she and her mother, Kathy, said.
“I was so scared,” Kathy said. “And I expected to hear the gunshot as soon as it opened.”
After robbing them, even taking Kathy’s wedding ring, Salgado led the family to the backyard pool and made them jump in as he escaped, Kathy and Katrina recalled. He was arrested just a few days later after the family reported him to the police.
In 2007, he was sentenced to 11 years in state prison for that case. He was released from prison 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 Monday’s kidnapping in Merced. Salgado attempted to kill himself before police arrived at a home in nearby Atwater where an ATM card belonging to one of the victims was used after the kidnapping.
The victims were Punjabi Sikhs, a community that has a significant presence in the trucking industry in central California, where many of them drive trucks, own trucking companies or have 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 shortly after being abducted from their business. A farmer found their bodies Wednesday near the town of Dos Palos, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of Merced.
Dazio reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writer Robert Jablon in Los Angeles and news reporter Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this report.