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The man accused of kidnapping a family of four in broad daylight is formally charged with murder.
Jesus Manuel Salgado, 48, was booked into the Merced County Jail and charged with four counts of murder and four counts of kidnapping on Thursday evening, according to the Merced County Sheriff’s Office. Investigators believe Salgado was behind the quadruple murder of three adults and an 8-month-old child whose bodies were found in a rural California orchard days after their abduction.
The victims were identified as married couple Jasleen Kaur, 27, and Jasdeep Singh, 36; their infant daughter, Aroohi Dheri; and Singh’s brother, Amandeep Singh, 39.
“Our detectives, alongside investigators from assisting agencies, will continue to follow up on any leads of additional people who may have been involved in this horrific incident,” the sheriff’s office stated in their release.
Salgado was officially charged with four counts of first-degree murder with special circumstances, as well as arson and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person, by the Merced County District Attorney on Monday. He faces life in prison without the possibility of parole, the office said. "District Attorney Kimberly Lewis will not be making a decision regarding the death penalty in 2022," the statement continued. "The People are preserving their right to pursue the death penalty in the future."
On Wednesday evening, a local farmer came upon the four bodies, which were “relatively close together” in the Dos Palos area, about 30 miles south of where they were kidnapped Monday morning.
A cause of death has yet to be determined, though the victims were discovered “among the rows of an almond orchard.”
Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke said the infant had no visible trauma and told the Associated Press he believed the relatives were killed within one hour of their kidnapping.
“There’s some things you’ll take to the grave,” Warnke stated. “This, to me, was pure evil.”
The frantic search for Kaur, Dheri and the Singh brothers began Monday morning after a masked man approached Jasdeep Singh in front of his trucking business on the 800 block of Highway 59 in Merced shortly after 9:00 a.m. Closed-circuit TV captured the man producing a gun before moving Jasdeep into the building, returning 12 minutes later with both Singh brothers, whose hands were zip-tied behind their backs.
The suspect is seen forcing the men into the backseat of Amandeep’s Dodge Ram pick-up truck before driving out of frame and returning just minutes later.
Upon the suspect’s return, the gunman again entered the dwelling, returning with Jasleen and her infant daughter, with whom he drove away in Amandeep’s vehicle.
The pick-up truck was found burning on the side of a Winton road — about 10 miles northwest of where the victims were kidnapped — at 11:39 a.m. that morning.
At the time of the kidnapping, family members spoke to reporters, begging for the safe return of their loved ones, according to the Fresno Bee.
“This is a peace-loving family and running a small business in the Merced area,” said family member Balwinder Saini. "We have been living in this area for a long time. We are devastated, we are shocked, we are dying every moment.”
As searches continued, authorities announced Jesus Salgado as a “person of interest” in the kidnapping, releasing a photo of a person — later determined not to be Salgado — at an ATM.
Merced County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Alexandra Britton told Oxygen.com that the bank sent a photo with the correct timestamp but mistakenly sent a picture from a different bank location.
“Salgado is not a suspect as far as using the (victim’s) card,” Britton stated.
Britton confirmed “there was a transaction made” with the victim’s card, though it was unclear who was behind it.
“The ATM card was used,” she said. “However, to my knowledge, Salgado was not associated with the transaction.”
The sheriff’s office could not confirm whether or not they were looking for a possible second suspect related to the ATM card.
According to Britton, investigators narrowed in on Salgado after he allegedly told relatives that “he was involved in this incident.”
“After his family members told him they were going to call law enforcement, Salgado attempted to take his own life,” Britton told Oxygen.com.
Merced County officials previously listed Salgado in critical condition following the attempted suicide. However, Sheriff Warnke later reported that Salgado provided information to authorities while receiving medical treatment for his injuries.
A possible motive behind the slayings has yet to be determined. According to the Associated Press, Warnke indicated there was a feud between the suspect and the victims that “got pretty nasty” in text messages and e-mails.
Warnke previously nodded to the suspect’s criminal history, saying, “everything is on the table,” according to the Fresno Bee.
Salgado was convicted in 2005 for robbing a residential dwelling with a gun and intimidating a witness, for which he served time in state prison before his June 2015 release. Per the Associated Press, Salgado also has a drug-related conviction under his belt.
The quadruple murder continues to pull on the heartstrings of not only those in the community but people around the world.
“Right now, I’ve got hundreds of people in a community that are grieving the loss of two families, and this is worldwide - these families are across different continents,” Warnke told the outlet. “We’ve got to show them that we can give them justice.”
Addressing reporters shortly after the victims’ bodies were discovered, Warnke stated he hoped the district attorney’s office “files for the death penalty.”
Family members said the victims were members of the Punjabi Sikh community, a group in central California with a strong presence in the region’s trucking industry. The Associated Press cited public records stating the family had just opened "Unison Trucking" weeks before the murders.
“It’s such a heartbreaking case. We had all hoped for the best, and this outcome is the worst-case scenario,” Britton told Oxygen.com. “We all feel for the family. No one should ever have to go through that.”
Court and legal information regarding Jesus Selgado were not available. The district attorney’s office did not immediately respond to requests by Oxygen.com.
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