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Kidnapped family members found dead in California

(CNN) — The search for a family of four who had been kidnapped in California ended Wednesday when authorities recovered their bodies from a rural farm days after they were kidnapped at gunpoint.

“Tonight, our worst fears were confirmed,” Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke said during a news conference Wednesday night. “Horrily, horribly senseless what happened here.”

The body of 8-month-old Aroohi Dheri was found in the same general area as her parents Jasleen Kaur and Jasdeep Singh, along with the body of the girl’s uncle, Amandeep Singh, Warnke said. Authorities received a call to the area Wednesday afternoon, she said.

The family had been missing since Monday, when authorities said they were kidnapped by a man armed with a gun and forced into a pickup truck.

Police have arrested a man they consider to be a person of interest in the case. The man is speaking to authorities and the motive is unclear at this time, the sheriff said.

Before the bodies were found, relatives had asked the public for any information related to the case.

The body of 8-month-old Aroohi Dheri was found in the same general area as her parents Jasleen Kaur and Jasdeep Singh, along with the body of the girl’s uncle, Amandeep Singh.

“All shops, gas stations, everyone that has cameras, please check the cameras,” Sukhdeep Singh, the brother of one of the victims, told reporters on Wednesday. “We need the public’s help right now. Please help us… so that my family can return home safely.”

Another relative, identified only as Balvinder, described the family as “peace-loving” and said they are small business owners and long-time residents of the area.

“We are devastated. We are shocked. We are dying every moment that passes without finding any clues,” Balvinder said.

Warnke said the man in custody was convicted in 2005 in a case of armed robbery and false imprisonment. The man was paroled in 2015. Warnke said the man acted alone in the earlier case and knew the victims.

Warnke said he believes at least one other person was involved in the kidnapping, but “we don’t have any evidence to support that.”

In a video shown at a news conference early Wednesday, Jasdeep and Amandeep Singh are seen arriving at the family van business nine minutes apart. Shortly before 9 a.m. Monday, Jasdeep comes across a man outside the business, who was carrying a garbage bag and then pulled out what appeared to be a firearm.

Jasdeep and Amandeep, with their hands tied behind their backs, are later seen being escorted by the gunman into the back of a van, from which he leaves and returns six minutes later.

The gunman walks back into the business and is seen leading Jasleen, who is carrying baby Aroohi, to the van.

A farmer found two of the victims’ cellphones on a road Monday, authorities said. The farmer at one point answered the phone and spoke with a family member of the victims.

‘We have no motivation behind this’

The person of interest, who attempted to take his own life, was sedated because he has acted violently in the hospital.

No charges have been filed, according to the prosecutor’s office. CNN would not release the name of the man in custody.

According to the Merced County Sheriff’s Office, the investigation began Monday at 11:39 a.m., when the California Highway Patrol responded to a 2020 Dodge Ram that was on fire and asked the Merced Police Department to assist. to locate the owner of the vehicle.

Approximately one hour later, at 12:35 pm, Merced police officers arrived at the truck owner’s address and encountered a family member there. The agents tried to contact the couple and the child’s uncle, but were unsuccessful.

Later Monday at 1:04 p.m., deputies from the Merced County Sheriff’s Office responded to a business on South Highway 59. “During the primary investigation, detectives determined that the individuals were abducted,” the office stated. from the sheriff on Tuesday.

The kidnapping involved a weapon and restraints, according to Deputy Alexandra Britton, public information officer for the sheriff’s office.

In an initial statement on the case Monday, the sheriff’s office said it believed the family was abducted “against their will” from a business in the 800 block of South Highway 59 in Merced, which is between Modesto and Fresno in the central California.

“We have no motivation behind this. We just know they’re gone,” Warnke said in a video message posted on Facebook.

Warnke also said investigators have collected evidence indicating “people involved in this destroyed evidence in an attempt to cover their tracks.”

On Tuesday, authorities detained a 48-year-old man as a person of interest in the case.

Investigators released this photo Monday of a man they say is suspected in the kidnappings.

Britton said the man’s family contacted police and told them the man admitted to being involved in the kidnapping. Police contacted the man after the family called.

As they investigate, the Merced County Sheriff’s Office continues to ask the public to contact 209-385-7547 to share any information they may have regarding the case. The FBI and the California Department of Justice are also investigating.

Victim’s card used at ATM after disappearance

Investigators learned Tuesday morning that an ATM card belonging to one of the victims was used at a bank in Atwater, California, the sheriff’s office said in a statement. Atwater is about 9 miles northwest of Merced. Britton said it’s not clear if the 48-year-old man in custody is the person who used that card.

After that transaction, investigators were able to identify the 48-year-old man as a person of interest in the case and later took him into custody, authorities said.

The man tried to take his own life before police caught him and was in critical condition Tuesday, according to the sheriff’s office.

Authorities were working to confirm that the man in custody is the same suspect whose photos were released Monday, Alexandra Britton, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office, told CNN.

“Investigators obtained a surveillance photo of a subject conducting a banking transaction in which the person is similar in appearance to the surveillance photo from the original abduction scene,” the sheriff’s office said.

On Monday, authorities described the suspect as a man with a shaved head who was last seen wearing a hoodie. He was considered armed and dangerous, authorities said.

CNN’s Ray Sanchez, Taylor Romine and Cheri Mossburg contributed to this report.

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