The younger brother of a man suspected in the kidnapping and killings of an eight-month-old baby, her parents and an uncle, was arrested on suspicion he helped his brother destroy evidence.
Alberto Salgado, 41, was accused of criminal conspiracy, accessory and destroying evidence, the Merced County Sheriff’s Office said. Suspect Jesus Salgado, 48, is being held on kidnapping and murder charges.
The bodies of Aroohi Dheri; her mother Jasleen Kaur, 27; father Jasdeep Singh, 36; and uncle Amandeep Singh, 39, were found by a farm worker on Wednesday in an almond orchard in a remote area in the San Joaquin Valley, California’s agricultural heartland.
Jesus Salgado — a convicted offender who tried to kill himself a day after the kidnappings — had worked for the family’s trucking business and had a longstanding feud with them, Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke said.
He was treated at a hospital before being taken to jail.
Sheriff Warnke had said detectives were also seeking a person of interest believed to be his accomplice.
Relatives of the victims and fellow members of the Punjabi Sikh community, meanwhile, were shocked by the killings.
At a vigil on Thursday evening in Merced, hundreds of people held lit candles and formed a circle of around photos of the victims. Religious leaders of different faiths opened the ceremony with prayers for the family.
“Tonight was the community coming together and showing the Singh family that ‘we’re here with you and we will be here with you for as long as you need us, and we will remember the names of those we lost,’” family friend Priya Lakireddy said.
The city of Merced, where the family lived and had their trucking business, will hold evening vigils in their memory until Sunday.
The older Salgado was previously convicted of first-degree robbery with the use of a firearm in Merced County, attempted false imprisonment and an attempt to prevent or dissuade a victim or witness.
Relatives of Salgado contacted authorities and told them he had admitted to them his involvement in the kidnapping, Sheriff Warnke told KFSN-TV.
Salgado tried to take his own life before police arrived at a home in Atwater — where an ATM card belonging to one of the victims was used after the kidnapping — about nine miles north of Merced.
The victims were Punjabi Sikhs, a community that has a significant presence in the trucking business in central California where many of them drive trucks, own trucking companies or other businesses associated with trucking.
Public records show the family owns Unison Trucking Inc and relatives said they had opened an office in the last few weeks in a parking lot the Singh brothers also operated. The feud with Salgado dated back a year, the sheriff said, and “got pretty nasty” in text messages or emails.
He said he believes the family was killed within an hour of the Monday morning kidnapping, when they were taken at gunpoint from their business. Their bodies were found near the town of Dos Palos, about 30 miles south of Merced.
Sheriff Warnke said the child was the only one with no visible trauma and an autopsy will be conducted.
Surveillance video showed the suspect — later identified as Salgado — leading the Singh brothers, who had their hands zip-tied behind their backs, into the back seat of Amandeep Singh’s pickup truck. He drove the brothers away and returned several minutes later.
The suspect then went back to the trailer that served as the business office and led Jasleen Kaur, who was carrying her baby in her arms, out and into the truck before the suspect drove them away shortly before 9.30 a.m.
Hours later, firefighters on Monday found Amandeep Singh’s truck on fire in the town of Winton, 10 miles north of Merced. Police officers went to Amandeep Singh’s home, where a family member tried to reach him and the couple. When they were not able to reach their family members, they called the sheriff’s office to report them missing.