The four bodies of a missing California family were found dead Wednesday afternoon after a masked suspect kidnapped them at gunpoint earlier this week, authorities said.
Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke confirmed the discovery during a news conference Wednesday night, adding, “Our worst fears have been confirmed.”
The family had been missing since Monday and authorities said they were “taken against their will” from a business in California’s Central Valley. A person of interest was taken into custody Tuesday afternoon, the Merced County Sheriff’s Office announced. The incident sparked a massive search and appeal to the public for help.
“There are no words to describe the anger I feel, the senselessness of this incident,” Warnke told reporters. “I said it before, there’s a special place in hell for that guy, and I mean it.”
Family members included Aroohi Dheri, 8 months; his 27-year-old mother, Jasleen Kaur; his 36-year-old father, Jasdeep Singh; and his 39-year-old uncle, Amandeep Singh, according to the Merced County Sheriff’s Office.
Detectives were notified Tuesday that one of the victim’s ATM cards was used at a bank in Atwater, a small town 8 miles west-northwest of Merced, according to the sheriff’s office . Later that day, the sheriff’s office identified Jesús Manuel Salgado, 48, as a person of interest in the investigation.
Charges against Salgado have not been announced. He is in hospital in critical condition after authorities say he tried to take his own life.
PREVIOUS REPORTS:Police are looking for a family of 4 from California, including an 8-month-old baby
THE NEWS DEVELOPS IN THE AFTERNOON:For an update later tonight, sign up for the evening briefing
Footage released by authorities shows Jasdeep Singh arriving at a business in a brown van, followed by Amandeep Singh, who arrived in a black pickup truck. Authorities narrated the surveillance footage during a news conference Wednesday.
The video shows a masked suspect walking south on California State Route 59 toward the business Monday, authorities said. Jasdeep Singh exited the building and made contact with the suspect before the two began walking back into the building, the sheriff’s office said.
Footage then shows the suspect pulling out a gun as he entered the building. There were no cameras inside the business.
Minutes later, the suspect was seen leaving the building with Jasdeep Singh and Amandeep Singh bound with nooses, authorities said. The suspect then put the two in the backseat of a pickup truck and drove off.
Video later shows the suspect returning to the business before returning to the truck with Jasleen Kaur and 8-month-old Aroohi Dheri, both unrestrained. The truck left and headed south on the highway.
Officials are still looking for a motive for the kidnapping, Warnke said Wednesday. But Warnke said he believes the motive may have been financial, adding that there is no evidence to suggest the incident may have been a hate crime.
Investigators also believe Salgado may not have acted alone.
“I fully believe there was at least one other person involved, but we don’t have any evidence to back that up, just the circumstances surrounding that,” Warnke said.
Before being arrested, Salgado tried to kill himself, the sheriff’s office said. He was sedated at a medical facility and in critical condition as of Wednesday afternoon, Warnke said, adding that detectives hope the investigation will move more quickly when Salgado is awake and alert.
USA TODAY DATA CHECK:Incidents at the South Carolina gas station, a grocery store unrelated to the kidnapping
“Hopefully, we can get some answers,” he said.
Salgado was previously convicted of robbery in 2015, Warnke said. The Merced County Sheriff’s Office is working with the California Department of Justice and the FBI to investigate the incident.
Contact News Now reporter Christine Fernando at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @christinetfern.