Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke confirmed late on October 5 that the bodies of four family members “kidnapped from the South Merced area” of California’s Central Valley had been found.
The missing were 8-month-old Aroohi Dheri, her mother Jasleen Kaur, 27, and father Jasdeep Singh, 36, and the baby’s uncle, Amandeep Singh, 39.
The sheriff’s office said they were “taken against their will from a business in the 800 Block of South Highway 59” on October 3.
Warnke said deputies’ “worst fears have been confirmed” after a farm worker discovered the bodies at an “extremely remote” area at around 5:30 pm on Wednesday. Warnke told local media the bodies were found near Dos Palos.
“There’s no words right now to describe the anger I feel and the senselessness of this incident,” he said.
The sheriff’s office said a person of interest, Jesus Manuel Salgado, 48, was in custody. “Prior to law enforcement involvement, Salgado attempted to take his own life. Salgado is in our custody, currently receiving medical attention and in critical condition,” the sheriff’s office said. Credit: Merced County Sheriff’s Office via Storyful
- --probation officer for the Merced County Sheriff's Office, discussing the incident that occurred on October 3 is Sheriff Vern Warnke, V-E-R-N W-A-R-N-K-E, as well as Undersheriff Corey Gibson, C-O-R-E-Y G-I-B-S-O-N.
Behind me is Atwater Police Chief Salvador, as well as California Highway Patrol Sergeant [? Laura. ?]
VERN WARNKE: Thank you. Good morning. First and foremost, with the folks from the media, you're going to see family here. I would appreciate it if you would respect their privacy in this. And you'll have time to talk with them later, after the investigation is complete. We would like you to respect their privacy and let it go at that.
On October 3, at approximately 11:39 AM, the California Highway Patrol and Cal Fire were dispatched to Buhach Road and Oakdale Road in [? Whitten ?] for a report of a vehicle fire. After they responded to the fire, Highway Patrol determined who the registered owner was and found out that they lived in a city of Merced. And they requested the City of Merced Police Department respond to the address and tried to contact the registered owner.
When the police department got there, to the house, nobody responded. However, they did make communication with a family member. That family member then started to make calls to the people that we were looking for. At this particular moment in time, we have not had any reports of missing persons. It was until the family reached out to us and then after their several attempts made to report the family missing.
At approximately 1:04 PM, our office was notified and responded to the business on South 59. When our patrol staff sergeants and deputies got on scene, they made a determination that we probably had a crime. And through investigative leads, they brought detectives in. And they were able to determine that a kidnapping had in fact occurred. At that time, the funder started. Undersheriff, [INAUDIBLE].
- So while our investigators were out on Highway 59, family continued to reach out to the two or the three missing people. They were able to make contact with someone on one of the phones. That phone was with a farmer. It was out in the area of Henry Miller and Elgin, north of Dos Palos.
Investigators at the scene continued to look at investigative leads and were able to get into the surveillance system. And so we'd like to go over the surveillance system with you.
So at 8:30 AM, we could see Jasdeep arrive in a brown minivan.
At 8:39, you see Amandeep. He arrives in his black Dodge pickup. It's down the-- in the corner, you can see the pickup here. These cameras are motion sensitive. And they go off every 30 seconds once they detect motion. So that some of the video is choppy.
At 8:58, you see Jasdeep come out the back door. And it's very important to note there's someone walking down South Highway 59 South. We're not sure if the dog alerted him, if there were some type of motion sensor or some type of app on his phone, but when he came out and looked.
At 8:59, this is the other side. You could see a subject walking down, south, on Highway 59, at the business. And you'll see Jasdeep come out. And he appears to be on his phone. And we're not sure, again, if he's got a motion or what's alerting him to come outside.
Jasdeep goes over and makes contact with our suspect. And then you'll see them walking back over towards the building. He's got this trash bag in his hand. Jasdeep walks up to the building, pausing to follow our suspect.
He'll continue to walk up the ramp. He'll put down the trash bag. And you'll see, right there, pulled out a firearm. He then enters the business. Unfortunately there's no cameras inside of the business. So we do we have no video surveillance inside.
At 9:11, the backdoor opens. You'll see the suspect come out. And you'll see the firearm. And it also appears that Jasdeep and Amandeep are zip tied behind the fence.
Jasdeep and Amandeep are put in the back seat of the pickup truck.
All right so that was 9:13 when the vehicle left. We saw 9:19, the truck is back. Same suspect gets out of the vehicle, goes back inside the business.
Less than a minute later, you're going to see Jasdeep and Aroohi come out of the business unrestrained.
You can see the truck leaves southbound, Highway 59 right before the video ends. From this point on, we no longer see any of the four victims on video at the location or the suspect vehicle or the suspect.
At that point, we find all of our detectives, including our Investigation Bureau, our supervised release team, our S.T.A.R. Team, and along with the county magnet to this investigation. They also were able to get the FBI, along with the California Department of Justice involved. And we've been working on this case diligently from the moment that we were informed that they were missing.
From that point, we worked on several investigative leads which led us to an incident that occurred in the city of Atwater yesterday, just prior to-- noon. During that incident, the city of Atwater received information that there was an individual in the city that may be connected to this case. Prior to the law enforcement arriving and seeing that subject, Jesus Salgado made an attempt on his life and was taken by ambulance to the hospital for medical treatment.
Since then, we've been unable to speak to the suspect in this case due to his medical condition and his attempt on his own life. It turns out [INAUDIBLE] pretty [? important. ?]
VERN WARNKE: We are currently with the suspect now at the medical treatment facility, waiting for the doctors to get him to a point where he can cooperate. We're hoping that he will cooperate because first and foremost, we want the family back. So that's where we are at this point. I'll open to any questions.
- Sheriff, I see you talking to the family. How are they doing?
VERN WARNKE: Family's taking it rough, as expected. And that's why I ask for your diligence in respecting their privacy in this matter. Let the family deal with the family on this. Media, you guys did with me and leave the family alone. It's very upsetting. We've got a lot of people here, supporting the family. And this, right now, until we can get our loved ones back, that's where we're at with this.
So let us handle this. You guys, as far as media, leave the family out of it. I appreciate that. The family has taken it pretty rough. But the is very, very supportive of what we're doing and supplying whatever they can as far as any information that would help us get their loved ones back.
- Sheriff, do you believe Salgado acted alone in this?
- We don't have any evidence to say that he didn't. However, 43 years doing this, everything points to that it was probably somebody else. But we don't know.
Until we get some kind of conversation going with the suspect, we're not 100%. It's just that seeing how everything that's gone on, I fully believe that there was at least one other person involved. But we don't have any evidence to support that. It's just the circumstances surrounding this. I believe that there is. We don't know.
- And you still have not been able to link the victims to Salgado in any way, shape, or form?
- Not yet. And that's what we're hoping for with, hopefully, a conversation with the suspect.
- Sheriff, any motive he told about?
- We don't have a motive. I can tell you that our suspect has a prior history of robbery. And he was actually convicted of it in 2005. And once he was sentenced, he was paroled in 2015. And since the parole, we have not had any major contact with this person at all.
But we kind of figured that that's what the motive is right now until we prove otherwise, it's almost always, [? with ?] [? smarter guys, ?] is [? that he's ?] financial [INAUDIBLE].
- And is he cooperating?
- We haven't-- so far he's been sedated. But we've had deputies on scene the entire time he's been in a medical facility. And as soon as he is able to, the doctors know that there's a rush on this. So everybody's been very supportive and cooperative. But right now, we've got to get this person into a position where we can start asking questions and hopefully get some answers.
- Did we get any-- what kind of car did he drive with?
- The only vehicle that we had that was sustained was the black Dodge belonged to our family. And any others, we've got some possible leads. We think we have a gray pickup involved. But until we get evidence to really tie it in, that's where we are. Again, we're sharing everything we have with you. And normally, I'll tell you right now, we wouldn't be sharing all of this. We want the family back. So at this point in time, that's all my focus is, is to get the family back.
So we want anybody with any information to reach out to us. And I know we have our tip line number here somewhere. And we'll give that to you so that folks can call in for tips. Give them that.
- [? 229-385-7547. ?]
- You guys get that? OK. That's our tip line. Our dispatch center has been inundated. Please call the tip line for any folks that are watching this. Just call that tip line. And that number or the information will be directed immediately to somebody that can follow up on any tips that come in.
And we're following every tip that comes in. That's to include our psychics that are calling in, literally. So we're not leaving any stone unturned, any blade of grass. Everything we have is out there.
Our area has been out constantly on this, the city of Atwater, as one of their officers is one of our pilots. And they've been very diligent and getting that support in. The city of Atwater, tremendous help and making sure that we keep that aircraft in the air, and do whatever we can. California Highway Patrol, as you can see, they're here. We've got the FBI and DOJ involved in this.
We've got dozens of law enforcement personnel working day and night for this. We keep going until it's concluded. And that's just how it goes. I mean, literally it's not 5:00, we go home. It's not that way with us. They continue on until they run out of leads.
- Sheriff, the farmer that found one of the cell phones-- what, if anything, did that farmer say?
VERN WARNKE: They found the phone in the middle of the street. And that was all it was to it. And fortunately, the family called that number. And he answered. That's how we got the information. We sent a detective and got possession of his phone.
- Any surveillance in the area?
VERN WARNKE: No, they're not, no. No, not-- yeah.
- What silver pickup truck, you were mentioning, how did that tie in?
VERN WARNKE: Just in some other videos that were seen. And just like I say, everything that we've got, that's what we're going on. We have one. And we're looking into that. So I can say everything that we have that could be possible, everything is on the table. Nothing's off the table. Sir?
- Did the suspect attempt suicide before your deputies arrived? Or was this after they--
VERN WARNKE: No. He attempted suicide prior to any law enforcement contact. The family had told our suspect that they had, in fact, contacted law enforcement because of what he had told them. And rather than talk with law enforcement, he attempted to take his own life.
- Are you able to say what he was attempting to do?
VERN WARNKE: No. I will-- we know how. We're not sharing that in case we have other information coming in that can tie in to that directly. So that's why we're holding that in. But we can tell you that he attempted to take his own life.
- How far from the crime scene?
VERN WARNKE: It was at a house in the city of Atwater. It wasn't anywhere near the crime scene.
- The robbery in 2005, did that involve kidnapping?
VERN WARNKE: It involved false imprisonment. There's a difference between false imprisonment and kidnapping. False imprisonment is stationary. So I go into your house, hold you there, can't make you leave or won't let you leave, that's false imprisonment. Kidnapping is they take you out of your house to someplace different. And that was also armed robbery. And it just so happens, Undersheriff Gibson was the detective that worked that case.
- What kind of business did the family run?
VERN WARNKE: It's a trucking company.
- Sheriff, do you think this is a hate crime?
VERN WARNKE: No. I don't believe that that's involved at all. At this point, we have nothing to indicate, other than, we think, always money until we've proven otherwise. And again, we're hoping to find out today, as soon as possible, by our suspect-- hopefully he will cooperate with us and give us some [INAUDIBLE] information. Right now, the big question and the first question is ask, where is the family? And that's where we're going.
So I shared with the family. Obviously, we have to worry about court and everything else. I'm not worried about court right now. We'll deal with court later. I'm worried about getting that family back. And that's how we're focused on this. 100% of our energy is trying to get our family back.
- Any businesses nearby who have CCTV over there--
VERN WARNKE: We checked every business, every residence that we've been able to. We've had a couple where the truck was burned. We're trying to get that. And it's really grainy stuff. We're talking about out in the rural, very rural areas. So every place that's been going on, detectives, all of our people, have been trying to get whatever information and whatever videos are available. Yes, Sir?
- The weapon that was used in the kidnapping, do you have that in your possession?
VERN WARNKE: No. That weapon is still outstanding.
- Any other victim in the area? Was anybody else in the building at the time?
VERN WARNKE: Everybody in the building, that we know of, was taken by the suspect, with him having a gun in his hand. So the threat of the gun in his hand, we're hoping that because the family cooperated with the suspect, that we'll get good results here. That's what we're hoping for at all times. That's why we're working so hard to make sure that this comes to that conclusion.
- Sheriff, you said that money tends to be part of the motive here. Was there anything big or valuable missing from the business? Or--
VERN WARNKE: Yeah, we haven't determined on anything. Family's been very good about giving us all the records. I will tell you, with the FBI'S help, dealing with the local financial institutions is proving challenging. And they're a little bit-- I'll say slow in getting any information because they're doing what they can when they can. But what we're finding out is the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing.
So you got one aspect of the financial institutions got in charge of all the videos. The other hand is doing all the financials. Well, they don't talk to each other. And we've got to have both of those communicate. So we're working on getting that part done. So again, we can only move so fast as other people. But we're on the ground, getting after it. And until we get it otherwise, to me, almost all crimes have been committed based upon the financial aspect until we find something different.
So we're going at it eyes open. Everything's on the table. But that's the only thing we can figure out because of this guy's history. That was his motivation back then. So I'm figuring it's probably the same now.
- And he also was caught at an ATM bank. What kind of car did he use? Was it one of the victim's--
VERN WARNKE: OK, let's clarify something with the bank. We know we had a transaction with our family. The bank had two transactions at the exact same time. They gave us a photograph of a different bank. OK.
It wasn't intentional. It wasn't-- but it was there. So we got that person identified and cleared off the radar. He's no longer a person of interest. So we're hoping to get the other information.
- That-- was their financial transaction big enough that that could be related to that money thing you were saying?
VERN WARNKE: Well, it wasn't a lot. But it was still a transaction using our family's financial information. So that's again, with the money, again, the information, we don't want to let out about how much. We want people, if they've got information, we want to know that they're telling the truth and are accurate with it. But because of that, the transaction itself leads me to believe that there was a money issue.
- Sheriff, is time-- is it essence because of the baby?
VERN WARNKE: It's everybody. It's everybody, not just that family, but we've got family here. Time is of the essence because we want to get this taken care of now. We don't know where. We don't know what. We want that to happen.
So right now, prayers need to go on that somehow this suspect is convinced to talk to us because that person, right now, is our sole lead on where the people are. We're working everything else. Yes, yes.
- Yesterday you guys said he was in critical condition. Today you're saying that you guys are hopeful that he is going to wake up. Is he doing better that--
VERN WARNKE: Well, the wake up part was a medically-induced sedation, OK? Because of the treatment, they didn't want him thrashing around. And I can tell you that every time he's even come near consciousness, it's been fine. So we don't know. The medical issue is because the doctors are treating him. And to get that treatment done, he has to be sedated. Anything else? Yes, Sir.
- Have you talked to his prior accomplices?
VERN WARNKE: He didn't have any accomplices in that first one. He acted by himself.
VERN WARNKE: 2005, OK? That investigation clearly showed that he was by himself and he knew the victims. So we don't know what the suspect is at this point. Again, waiting on some possible cooperation from him to us.
- So far any eyewitnesses came forward?
VERN WARNKE: Nothing, nothing.
- Do you know where the suspect came from? He was walking down the street. Did he have any--
VERN WARNKE: We just have him-- just picked up on that surveillance, walking southbound on Highway 59 near the business. That's the only one that we've got that shows him walking. We don't have any video that shows that he was dropped off. We show nothing except he was walking.
- You said you believe that they knew each other.
VERN WARNKE: I-- no. I said, in the first one, they did. We don't know what this guy does or doesn't know. We haven't been able to talk to him. So far my speculation is financial. And until we prove otherwise, until that, and again, we don't believe there's a hate crime involved. We just think that this guy, because of his history, he's a robber. He's a thief. He needs to be in prison. So that's where he needs to be. Hopefully we'll get him to communicate with us so we can get this guy.
- Going back to the bank, can you give the location of that ATM that he used?
VERN WARNKE: No.
- Sheriff, what can you tell us about the suspect? That he lives in Atwater?
VERN WARNKE: The suspect has been a Merced County resident. And I believe he's also been a Madera County resident. Is that correct? yes. And since he was paroled in 2015, little is known, OK? We're still trying to gather information on his personal side. But like I say, right now we're just trying to get the family. Once we get the family back, then we're going to start piecing together everything so we can go to trial. But right now, trial's the farthest thing on my mind.
So we don't know what he's been doing since 2015. We're going to try to find that out. But like I say, once we get to it-- so that's what we're stuck at right now. So we're giving all the information we have pertaining to this. Some of the stuff we're not sharing because in case somebody steps forward, they can say, well, I saw him at whatever bank.
Thank you. Then we know that person is telling us the truth. If we give that information and somebody goes, hey, we-- we've discouraged the family, at this point, to offer any rewards because everybody in the world comes out. We will entertain that later as this thing progresses. And I saw that-- yes?
- Yesterday, you guys said that the Dodge truck was burned. Was there any evidence inside or anything--
VERN WARNKE: Just that everything was scorched. And you had Cal Fire. They will tell you the one thing, fire kills off. And once you've done that, we had the physical evidence. There was no indication of anything other than a burnt truck. People were saying about all kinds of gruesome stuff. There was nothing like that. It was just the truck that was burned. So--
- Were there tire tracks leading away from that truck? Where they walking? Do you have any idea?
VERN WARNKE: That part, I was not on scene. And if the investigators found that, they did not share it with me.
- Do you believe the suspect is a transient at all or does he have a residence?
VERN WARNKE: I believe he's a resident of this county and/or Madera County because he's got family members here.
- Sheriff, while the cameras are here, does the family want to make any plea, publicly today, while everybody's available?
VERN WARNKE: Yes. Would you like them to come up?
- My name is [INAUDIBLE]. I'm a brother of [INAUDIBLE]. I'm fighting for my whole family. I just want to tell all the people who are watching me right now, through all this [INAUDIBLE], gas station, all anybody, whoever have these cameras, please send the camera. If you has any helpful tip or video, please provide it to the Sheriff's Department or law enforcement [INAUDIBLE]. We're trying the best of what they can do. But we need the public's help right now.
So I want to say strongly, again, to everybody, whoever's watching me, please help us all come forward so my family comes home safe. Thank you.
- This is a [? beast ?] on your family. And running a small business in the west side area, so I've been living in this area for a long time. We are devastated. We are shocked. We are dying every moment, not finding any clues.
So if anyone has seen anything, even a small infraction, somebody at the gas station, someone finds something-- where the suspect was taking them and the shifting of cars when he was doing that, or if he was doing that, please do come forward. Any small lead could get us to our family.
And I wanted to also thank all the Sheriff's Department and the people that are involved, the media, [INAUDIBLE]. And I would also say that please share it. It could be beyond California. So if we could get help taking down all of the public national news, that will you get us more traction in finding those suspects.
- Can we get your name? Your name?
- Your name.
- How do you spell that?
- Has there been pretty-- I mean, I'm sure it's really hard. How do you deal with something like this?
- It's something that nobody is prepared to deal with. So we are just hoping and praying every moment. We've got a lot of faith in our police department, that they will be able to find our family. But all of us are trying to look for ways that we can deal with this or we can help out in any way because you start handing out pamphlets or things like that at gas stations and convenience stores means somebody might have seen something. We want to reach out to the public and request them to come forward.
- Thank you. Sheriff, can we also get the spelling of the brother's name as well, just so that we have it correct for [INAUDIBLE]?
- S-U-K-H [INAUDIBLE] E-E-P [INAUDIBLE] S-I-N-G-H.
- And you're his brother?
- I'm a brother, yes. [INAUDIBLE].
VERN WARNKE: Folks, there's no more questions on this, we're going to conclude this conference.