Officials are working to determine a motive after a kidnapped family of 4 was found dead in California
Aya Elamroussi, CNN
(CNN) — Investigators in California are working to determine the motive behind the killing of a family of four — including an 8-month-old baby — as the bodies were recovered Wednesday in a rural farm area after they were kidnapped earlier this week by an armed man at their business.
A farm worker initially found the bodies of 8-month-old Aroohi Dheri in an orchard in Merced County, California, in the same vicinity as her parents Jasleen Kaur and Jasdeep Singh, authorities said.
The child’s uncle, Amandeep Singh, was also found near them, and the worker notified authorities around 5:30 p.m local time Wednesday.
“A whole family wiped out, and we still don’t know why,” Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke said during a news conference Wednesday after the bodies were recovered.
The family was reported missing Monday, when authorities say the family was kidnapped at gunpoint from their trucking business in the city of Merced, which sits between Modesto and Fresno in central California.
Police have taken a 48-year-old suspect in custody, but he has not been charged. CNN is not naming the suspect because no charges have been filed against him as of late Wednesday.
“The circumstances around this, when we are able to release everything, should anger the hell out of you,” said Warnke, who was visibly emotional and frustrated at what happened to the family. “There’s a special place in hell for this guy.”
Warnke did not say how the family was killed, adding that it appears they were killed before they were reported missing on Monday.
Authorities believe the person they have in custody is the main suspect in the killings, though they indicated other people may have been involved, according to Warnke, who did not elaborate on the extent of that involvement.
“I fully believe that we will uncover and find out that there was more than just him involved,” Warnke noted.
The suspect in custody has been providing information to investigators, and officials are working with him to identify a motive, Warnke said.
Authorities were processing the area Wednesday evening where the bodies were found, and it appears the family were killed at that location, Warnke said.
Law enforcement are working to preserve and document the crime scene so they can pursue a full conviction, Warnke said. There is “a lot of circumstantial evidence and direct evidence” in this case, he added.
Kidnapping of ‘peace loving’ family caught on video
Earlier Wednesday, authorities released surveillance footage of the kidnapping that took place at the family’s Merced trucking business Monday morning.
The video shows Jasdeep Singh arriving at the business’ parking lot at 8:30 a.m., followed by Amandeep Singh arriving nine minutes later.
Shortly before 9 a.m., Jasdeep is seen encountering a man outside the business. The man carried a trash bag and pulled out what appeared to be a firearm, the video shows.
Several minutes later, Jasdeep and Amandeep are seen with their hands tied behind their backs as they get into a truck. Shortly after, the truck leaves and returns six minutes later.
Upon returning, the suspect enters the business and exits with a gun in hand as Jasleen Kaur holds 8-month-old Aroohi and walks in front of the suspect to the truck.
Later Monday, a farmer found two of the victims’ cell phones on a road, authorities said. At one point, the farmer answered the phone and spoke with a relative of the victims.
Before the bodies were found Wednesday evening, a family member had urged people to come forward with any information in the case.
“This is a peace loving family and running a small business in the Merced area,” pleaded Balvinder, a family member. “This is something that nobody is prepared for dealing with … we are just hoping and praying every moment.”
Suspect in custody has been violent, sheriff says
Authorities say the suspect attempted suicide before being taken into custody on Tuesday, a day after the family was kidnapped.
He had been sedated because authorities “didn’t want him thrashing around,” Warnke said earlier Wednesday. “I can tell you every time he has come near consciousness, he’s been violent.”
The man’s family had contacted law enforcement and told them the man admitted to being involved in the kidnapping, according to Deputy Alexandra Britton, a spokesperson for the Merced County Sheriff’s Office.
Law enforcement contacted the man after the family’s call, she added.
On Tuesday morning, investigators learned that an ATM card belonging to one of the victims was used at a bank in Atwater, California, which is about nine miles northwest of Merced, the sheriff’s office said.
It is unclear whether the 48-year-old in custody is the person who used that card, Britton said.
After that transaction, investigators were able to identify the 48-year-old man as a person of interest in the case and later took him into custody, officials said.
Additionally, the suspect was convicted in 2005 in a case involving armed robbery and false imprisonment and was paroled in 2015, Warnke said. In that previous case, the man acted alone and knew the victims, according to Warnke.