Four kidnapped family members in California – including a baby girl – were found dead in a farm area Wednesday, authorities said, two days after they were abducted from their business in a case in which investigators have detained a suspect but have not announced a motive.
The bodies of 8-month-old Aroohi Dheri, her parents Jasleen Kaur and Jasdeep Singh and her uncle Amandeep Singh were found by authorities Wednesday evening after a farm worker alerted them to remains in an orchard in central California’s Merced County, authorities said.
The discovery was announced by a visibly emotional sheriff who said he hoped a district attorney would seek the death penalty for the suspect, who was taken into custody Tuesday. CNN is not naming the suspect because charges had not been filed against him as of late Wednesday.
“There’s a special place in hell for this guy,” Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke said during a news conference after the bodies were found.
“This is completely and utterly pointless. An entire family (was) wiped out and we still don’t know why,” Warnke said.
The family was kidnapped at gunpoint — an abduction captured on surveillance video — from their trucking business Monday morning in Merced, a city between Modesto and Fresno in central California, authorities said. Investigators learned they were missing after a family vehicle was found abandoned and on fire that morning, authorities said.
Police took a 48-year-old suspect into custody Tuesday after his family told police he admitted to being involved in the kidnapping, Merced County Sheriff’s Deputy Alexandra Britton said.
“The circumstances surrounding this, when we’re able to release everything, should infuriate you,” Warnke said.
The suspect attempted suicide sometime before he was arrested, and he has been receiving medical attention, Warnke said.
Warnke did not say how the family was killed, adding that it appears they were killed before the sheriff’s department was notified Monday that the family was missing.
The person in custody is the prime suspect in the killings, although investigators believe others 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 that there was more than just him involved,” Warnke said.
The suspect has provided information to investigators, and officials are working with him to identify a motive, Warnke said.
It appears the relatives were killed where they were found, Warnke said.
Earlier Wednesday, authorities released surveillance footage of the kidnapping at the family’s Merced trucking business Monday morning.
The video shows Jasdeep Singh arriving at the company’s parking lot at 8:30, followed by Amandeep Singh, who arrives nine minutes later.
Shortly before 9 am, Jasdeep is seen bumping into a man outside the business. The man was carrying 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. Soon after, the truck leaves and returns six minutes later.
When the suspect returns, the suspect enters the business and exits with a gun in hand as Jasleen Kaur holds 8-month-old Aroohi and walks ahead of the suspect to the truck.
Later Monday, a farmer found two of the victims’ cellphones on a road, authorities said. At one point the farmer picked up the phone and spoke to a relative of the victims.
Before the bodies were found on Wednesday night, a family member had urged people to come forward with information in the case.
“This is a peace-loving family and runs a small business in the Merced area,” pleaded Balvinder, a family member. “This is something that no one is prepared to deal with … we’re just hoping and praying every moment.”
On Tuesday morning, investigators learned that an ATM card belonging to one of the victims was used at a bank in Atwater, Calif., which is about 9 miles northwest of Merced, the sheriff’s office said.
It’s unclear if 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, officials said.
The suspect was convicted in 2005 in a case involving armed robbery and false imprisonment and was paroled in 2015, Warnke said. In the earlier case, the man acted alone and knew the victims, according to Warnke.