Suspect in jail on kidnap, murder charges after 4 Merced relatives found dead

Suspect Jesus Salgado was fingered by his family as the man who kidnapped and allegedly killed a family in Merced. 

The 48-year-old man accused of taking a family at gunpoint in Merced and then being part of their deaths has been booked into jail after the sheriff urged prosecutors to seek the death penalty. 

On Thursday, Jesus Salgado, was released from the hospital and booked into the county jail on suspicion of kidnapping and murder, the Sheriff’s Office said. It wasn’t clear if he had a lawyer who could speak on his behalf.

Salgado had worked for the family of whom he kidnapped Monday and had some longstanding feud with them, Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke said.  

Two days later, a rancher found the bodies of the family in an almond orchard in a small town in San Joaquin County near Merced. They have been identified as Aroohi Dheri; her mother Jasleen Kaur, 27; father Jasdeep Singh, 36; and uncle Amandeep Singh, 39. 

Salgado is a convicted felon who tried to kill himself a day after the kidnappings. Warnke believes that Salgado worked with someone else, and he is urging that second person to come forward.

Meanwhile, relatives and fellow members of the Punjabi Sikh community, reeled from shock and grief. They held a vigil on Thursday night. 

"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 Associated Press. "We’ve got to show them that we can give them justice."

MORE: Body language analyzed while slain Merced family kidnapped

Merced County sheriff's officials were searching for an 8-month-old, her parents, and uncle, who investigators said were kidnapped at gunpoint on Monday, Oct. 3, 2022.

Warnke called it one of the worst crimes he has seen over his 43 years in law enforcement. 

"There’s some things you’ll take to the grave. This to me was pure evil," he said in an interview Thursday.

Warnke on Thursday would not discuss the condition of the adults’ remains in the orchard but said it was unclear how the baby died. Warnke said the child had no visible trauma and an autopsy will be conducted

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. Sentenced to 11 years in state prison in that case, he was released in 2015 and discharged from parole three years later, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. He also has a conviction for possession of a controlled substance, the department said.

Relatives of Salgado contacted authorities and told them he had admitted to them his involvement in the kidnapping, Warnke told KFSN-TV on Tuesday. 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 9 miles  north of Merced. Efforts to reach Salgado’s family were unsuccessful Thursday.

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.

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. Other details about Salgado’s employment and the nature of the dispute were not immediately available.

Warnke said he believes the family was killed within an hour of the Monday morning kidnapping, when they were taken at gunpoint from their business.

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 (16 kilometers) 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 to report them missing.

They were likely already dead.


Stefanie Dazio reported from Los Angeles. Olga Rodrigues reported from San Francisco. Associated Press writer Robert Jablon in Los Angeles and News Researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this report. KTVU also contributed to this report.