Slain California family, suspect had longstanding dispute, authorities say

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The suspect in the kidnapping and killing of a central California family was a former employee of the family who had a longstanding dispute with them that “got pretty nasty,” authorities said Thursday.

Relatives of the deceased family told investigators that Jesus Salgado, 48, had sent angry text messages or emails to the family about a year ago after working with their trucking business, Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke told The Associated Press.

A farm worker reported a deceased person late Wednesday and local authorities found the bodies of 8-month-old Aroohi Dheri; her 27-year-old mother, Jasleen Kaur; her 36-year-old father, Jasdeep Singh; and her 39-year-old uncle, Amandeep Singh in a remote area near the town of Dos Palos, California, about 30 miles south of Merced, California. The slain family was among the rows of an almond orchard.

Warnke said he believed the family was killed before their relatives reported them missing Monday

“Our thoughts are with the family in their time of grief and we ask that everyone respect their privacy,” the sheriff’s office added.

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All four victims were allegedly kidnapped at gunpoint by Salgado from their business in Merced on Monday, authorities said. Salgado was identified as a person of interest Tuesday after detectives were notified that one of the victim’s ATM cards was used at a bank in Atwater, California, a small town 8 miles west-northwest of Merced, according to the sheriff’s office.

Salgado was taken into custody Tuesday afternoon but charges against him have not been announced. 

After attempting to take his own life, Salgado was admitted to a hospital in critical condition. He is still receiving medical treatment and being interviewed by investigators, authorities said.

Investigators are also seeking a person of interest who may have acted as Salgado’s accomplice, Warnke said. Detectives also believe Salgado destroyed unspecified evidence in an attempt to cover his tracks.

Officials are still searching for a motive in the kidnapping, Warnke said Wednesday. But Warnke said he believes the motive may have been financial, adding there is no evidence to suggest the incident may have been a hate crime.

The victims were Punjabi Sikhs, a community in central California that has a significant presence in the trucking business with many of them driving trucks, owning trucking companies, or other businesses associated with trucking.

Following the kidnapping Monday, a massive search was launched and the public was asked to help. Surveillance footage was also released and authorities narrated the footage, showing how the family was kidnapped.

Contributing: The Associated Press