Suspect accused in California family kidnapping-murder, search for possible accomplice

Memorial organized for the slain Merced family


San Francisco Suspect in the kidnapping and murder of an 8-month-old baby, her parents and an uncle worked for the family’s trucking business and had a long-standing feud, which resulted in an act of “pure evil” , a sheriff said Thursday.

The bodies of Aarohi Dheri; his mother Jasleen Kaur, 27; father Jasdeep Singh, 36; and uncle Amandeep Singh, 39, was found by a farm worker Late Wednesday night at an almond orchard in a remote area in the San Joaquin Valley, California’s agricultural heartland.

Investigators were preparing a case against the suspect—a convicted criminal who tried to kill himself the day after the kidnapping—and looking for an interested man as his accomplice.

The sheriff’s office said the suspect, Jesus Salgado, 48, was released from hospital and held in the county jail Thursday night on four counts of kidnapping and murder. It was not clear if he had a lawyer who could speak on his behalf.

Person of interest caught in kidnapping of a California family;  4 victims missing
An undated photo of Jesus Manuel Salgado, 48, charged with murder and kidnapping in the kidnapping and murders of a family of 4 in Merced County, Central California, on October 3, 2022. To the right are surveillance photos of a man Salgado believed to have been taken on October 3.

Merced County Sheriff’s Office

Meanwhile, relatives and fellow members of the Punjabi Sikh community are in shock over the killings.

“Right now, I have hundreds of people in a community who are mourning the loss of two families, and it’s all over the world. These families are on different continents,” Merced County Sheriff Vern Warneke told the Associated Press. “We have to show them that we can do them justice.”

Earlier, Warneke had demanded the death penalty from prosecutors. The sheriff called it one of the worst crimes he has seen in his 43 years in law enforcement and requested Salgado’s partner to turn himself in.

“There are certain things you would take to the grave. It was pure evil to me,” he said in an interview on Thursday.

The city of Merced, where the family’s trucking business was located, will hold an evening vigil in his memory through Sunday.

Person of interest caught in kidnapping of a California family;  4 victims missing
Undated photos of Aarohi Dheri, her mother, Jasleen Kaur, her father, Jasdeep Singh and her uncle (right) Amandeep Singh, whom officials say were abducted and murdered on October 3, 2022.

Merced County Sheriff’s Office

The bodies of the victims were found near the town of Dos Palos, about 30 miles south of Merced.

Warneke did not discuss the condition of the remains of the adults in the garden Thursday, but said it was unclear how the child died. Warneke said the child had no visible trauma and an autopsy would be performed.

He previously said that the victims were found “relatively together”.

The sheriff stressed that they were found “in an extremely rural agricultural area, where not many people come here.”

Salgado had previously been convicted of first-degree robbery with the use of a firearm in Merced County, attempted false imprisonment and attempted to detain or deter a victim or witness. Sentenced to 11 years in state prison in that case, he was released in 2015 and released from parole three years later, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The department said he is also accused of possessing a controlled substance.

Warneke told KFSN-TV on Tuesday that Salgado’s relatives contacted authorities and told them he had admitted his involvement in the kidnapping. Salgado tried to take his own life before police arrived at a home in Atwater – where the ATM card of one of the victims was used after the kidnapping – about 9 miles north of Merced.

Efforts to reach Salgado’s family were unsuccessful on Thursday.

The victims were Punjabi Sikhs, a community in central California with a significant presence in the trucking business, many of whom drive trucks, own trucking companies or have other businesses associated with trucking.

Public records show the family owns Unison Trucking Inc and relatives said they had opened an office in a parking lot in the past few weeks that was also operated by the Singh brothers. The feud with Salgado happened a year ago, the sheriff said, and “got pretty bad” in text message or email. Other details about Salgado’s employment and the nature of the dispute were not immediately available.

Warneke said he believes the family was killed within an hour of the kidnapping on Monday morning, when they were taken from their business at gunpoint.

surveillance video shown The suspect – later identified as Salgado – was leading the Singh brothers in the back seat of Amandeep Singh’s pickup truck, whose hands were tied behind their backs. He drove the brothers away and returned several minutes later.

The suspect then went back to the trailer, which served as the business office, and took Jasleen Kaur, who was carrying her baby in her arms, out and into the truck, before the suspect took her to the bus at 9 a.m. Driven away shortly before :30.

Hours later, on Monday, firefighters saw Amandeep Singh’s truck catching fire in the town of Vinton, 10 miles north of Merced. The police officers went to Amandeep Singh’s house, where a family member tried to reach him and the couple. When he could not reach his family members, he called the sheriff to report him missing.

Maybe they were already dead.

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