The family from Punjab was kidnapped at gunpoint from their trucking business Monday morning
Four kidnapped members of an Indian American family – including a baby girl – were found dead in a farm area Wednesday, two days after they were abducted from their business.
The bodies of 8-month-old Aroohi Dheri, her parents Jasleen Kaur and Jasdeep Singh, and her uncle Amandeep Singh were recovered by authorities Wednesday evening after a farmworker alerted them to remains in an orchard in central California’s Merced County, authorities said.
The family was originally from Harsi Pind in Hoshiarpur, Punjab.
Read: Kidnapped Indian American family of four still missing (October 5, 2022)
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 detained Tuesday, CNN reported. No charges had been filed against him as of late Wednesday.
“There’s a special place in hell for this guy,” Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke was quoted as saying during a news conference after the bodies were recovered.
“This is completely and totally senseless. A whole family (was) wiped out, and we still don’t know why,” Warnke said.
The family was kidnapped at gunpoint – an abduction recorded on surveillance video – from their trucking business Monday morning in Merced, a city between Modesto and Fresno in central California, CNN said citing authorities.
Investigators learned they were missing after a family vehicle was found abandoned and on fire that morning, they said.
Police took a 48-year-old suspect into custody Tuesday after his family told law enforcement he admitted to being involved in the kidnapping, Merced County sheriff’s Deputy Alexandra Britton said.
“The circumstances around this, when we are able to release everything, should anger the hell out of you,” Warnke said.
The suspect attempted suicide sometime before he was taken into custody, 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 main suspect in the killings, though 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 out that there was more than just him involved,” Warnke said.
The suspect has been providing information to investigators, and officials are working with him to identify a motive, he said. It appears the relatives were killed where they were found.
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 business’ parking lot at 8:30 am, followed by Amandeep Singh arriving nine minutes later.
Shortly before 9 am, 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.”
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 9 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, 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 that previous case, the man acted alone and knew the victims, according to Warnke.