Watch CBS News

Update: Merced County family slaying suspect worked for family's trucking company

Memorial held for for slain Merced family
Memorial held for for slain Merced family 00:13

MERCED -- Authorities on Thursday confirmed the man suspected of killing four family members including a baby girl after kidnapping them at gunpoint had previously worked for the family.

The Merced County Sheriff said the suspect -- 48-year-old Jesus Salgado, who is in custody -- had previously worked for the family's trucking company and had a longstanding dispute with them that "got pretty nasty."

Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke said relatives of the slain family told investigators that Salgado had sent angry text messages or emails about a year ago after working with their trucking business.

A baby girl, her parents and uncle were found dead in a central California orchard Wednesday night, two days after the kidnapping at their business, police said.

The grim announcement came after authorities earlier Wednesday released surveillance video of a man kidnapping 8-month-old Aroohi Dheri; her mother Jasleen Kaur, 27; father Jasdeep Singh, 36; and uncle Amandeep Singh, 39, on Monday.  

"Our worst fears have been confirmed," Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke said at a Wednesday night news conference.

Warnke did not release any information about how and when police believe they were killed. He said the victims were close to each other when found by a farm worker in a remote area.

He said he believed the family was killed before their relatives reported them missing Monday.  

What we know about the Merced family's alleged killer by CBS Sacramento on YouTube

Authorities said they were taken by a convicted robber who tried to kill himself a day after the kidnappings. Jesus Salgado, 48, was in critical condition when taken into custody but has been talking to police, Warnke said.

No motive for the kidnapping has been established, he said.

"There's no words right now to describe the anger I feel and the senselessness of this incident," Warnke said. "I said it earlier: There's a special place in hell for this guy."

Investigators, including crime lab technicians from the California Department of Justice, would be processing the crime scene through the night, Warnke said.

As new details emerge in the horrific murders of the family, California's Sikh community is banding together for support. 

"There's just…there's no words right now to describe the anger I feel and the senselessness of this incident," said Guramrit Singh Ghoman with UC Berkeley Sikh Student Association.

The crime has sent shockwaves through the Sikh community across California and in the Bay Area.

"When something happens like this, everybody supports. And I'm sure they'll be more vigils in Sacramento, in Yuba City, up and down the Valley and in the Bay Area," said Ghoman.

The UC Berkeley Sikh Student Association—the oldest Sikh university group in the U.S. – is already planning an event to remember the family.

"The Sikhs in the community have been…in California for many, many, many years. We're no different. We're your local business owners, your farm workers, your lawyers, your teachers," said the UC Berkeley Sikh Student Association's Anek Sahota." It was just a disappointment to see what happened to this family."

While there is a lot to learn about the motive, Sikh students at Cal say it's as important as ever to wrap their arms around the community.

The four family members were taken from their business in Merced, a city of 86,000 people about 125 miles (200 kilometers) southeast of San Francisco in the San Joaquin Valley, California's agricultural heartland.

kidnapped family
Merced County Sheriff's Office

Relatives of Salgado contacted authorities reporting that he had admitted to them he was involved with the kidnapping, Warnke told KFSN-TV on Tuesday. Salgado tried to take his own life before police arrived at a home in nearby Atwater, and he has since been hospitalized.

Efforts to reach Salgado's family were unsuccessful Wednesday.

The video released earlier Wednesday showed the suspect first walking by the property before talking to one of the men. Later, it shows him leading the men, who had their hands zip-tied behind their backs, into the back seat of Amandeep Singh's pickup truck. The suspect then went back to the trailer that served as the business office and led Jasdeep Singh, who was carrying her baby in her arms, out and into the truck before the suspect then drove away.

Family members said nothing was stolen from the trucking company but that their relatives were all wearing jewelry. Warnke had said that after the kidnappings, an ATM card belonging to one of the victims was used in Atwater, about 9 miles (14 kilometers) north of Merced.

Warnke said the kidnapper made no ransom demands.

Investigators were trying to discover a motive for the slayings, the sheriff said.

"We have a whole family wiped out and for what? We don't know yet," he said.

Relatives of the victims had been notified of the deaths, the sheriff said.

"We're hoping that they can now at least have some kind of closure," Warnke said, adding: "It's not the closure we were hoping for; it's not the closure they were hoping for."

Family members had earlier asked anyone who owns a convenience store or gas station in the area to check their surveillance cameras for images of the suspect or those missing. They said they were worried the baby wasn't being fed because the family didn't have any baby food with them at the time of the kidnapping.

"Please help us out, come forward, so my family comes home safe," Sukhdeep Singh, a brother of the victims, said, his voice breaking.

Salgado was previously convicted of first-degree robbery with the use of a firearm in Merced County, as well as attempted false imprisonment and an attempt to prevent or dissuade a victim or witness. He was sentenced to 11 years in state prison in that case, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

He was released from prison in 2015 and discharged from parole three years later. He also has a conviction for possession of a controlled substance, the corrections agency said.

Investigators have not found a link between Salgado and the family to show they knew each other before the kidnapping.

"As of right now, we believe it was random," Deputy Alexandra Britton said. "We don't have evidence to prove otherwise."

Family members had told KXTV-TV that the office for Unison Trucking Inc., the family's business, had only opened about a week earlier.

"My husband is very peaceful and calm person. We don't have any clue why they kidnapped them," said Jaspreet Caur, wife of the kidnapped uncle.

The sheriff said detectives believe the kidnapper destroyed unspecified evidence in an attempt to cover his tracks.

The sheriff's office said that firefighters on Monday found Amandeep Singh's truck on fire. Merced Police Department officers went to Amandeep Singh's home, where a family member tried to reach him and the couple. When they were not able to reach their family members, they called the Merced County Sheriff's office to report them missing, the office said.

Merced County Undersheriff Corey Gibson said a farmer found a phone belonging to one of the victims on a street in Dos Palos, a town 30 miles (48 kilometers) southwest of Merced, and answered it when the family called it.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.