Merced family kidnapping: money appears to be motive, sheriff says

The kidnapping of a Merced family earlier this week appears to have been motivated by greed, sheriff's officials said at a news conference on Wednesday.

Merced County Sheriff Vernon H. Warnke said the suspect in the case identified as Jesus Salgado, 48, has a prior robbery conviction in 2005 that involved false imprisonment. He was paroled in 2015.

"To me, almost all crimes are committed based upon the financial aspect, until we find something different," Warnke said. "Everything is on the table, but that's the only thing we can figure out because of this guy's history. If that was his motivation back then, I'm figuring it's probably the same now."

Eight-month-old Aroohi Dheri; her mother, Jasleen Kaur, 27; father Jasdeep Singh, 36; and uncle Amandeep Singh, 39, were all kidnapped Monday morning from a business on South Highway 59 in South Merced. The kidnapping happened at a trucking company belonging to the family that had only been open a week.

The family has not yet been found.

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Salgado was identified as a person of interest in the case after he used a victim's ATM card at a bank in Atwater, a city north of Merced.

Warnke on Wednesday didn't give the exact amount that was withdrawn from the account, only saying, "it wasn't a lot, but it was enough using the family's financial information. The transaction itself leads me to believe there's a money issue."

Investigators obtained a surveillance photo of Salgado making the bank transaction at the ATM. He was later upgraded to a suspect in the case.

Authorities said Salgado attempted to take his own life Tuesday before police arrived to arrest him. He was taken into custody at a home in Atwater, but remains in critical condition at a local hospital.

The sheriff said detectives believe the kidnapper destroyed unspecified evidence in an attempt to cover his tracks.

The sheriff’s office said that firefighters on Monday found a pickup truck belonging to Amandeep Singh that was on fire. Merced Police Department 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 Merced County Sheriff’s Office to report them missing, the office said.

After the missing persons report was filed, family members continued to call the victims' phones hoping that someone would answer. Officials said one of those calls got was answered by a farmer. The farmer said he found the phone in a street in the area of Henry Miller and Elgin Road.