“Tonight, our worst fears have been confirmed,” Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke said Wednesday in a news conference. “We found the four people from the kidnapping, and they are in fact deceased.”
Officers were called to an “extremely rural farm area” around 5:30 pm on Wednesday by a farmhand who came across the victims’ bodies while at work, Warnke said. Deputies and detectives arrived at the scene and found the bodies of the victims “relatively close together,” he said.
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Authorities at a news conference played CCTV footage that showed an armed man walking into a building off South Highway 59 that was identified as the family’s trucking business. The man was then seen leaving with the family members, some of whom appeared to have their hands zip-tied behind their backs, and loading them into a vehicle before driving away.
Earlier in the day, authorities said they took a person of interest in the kidnapping into custody. Identified as Jesus Manuel Salgado, 48, he tried to take his own life before he was apprehended and was taken to a hospital in critical condition, the sheriff’s office said. At a previous news conference, county law enforcement officials said Salgado was convicted of a robbery in 2005 and released on parole in 2015.
Authorities said the motivation behind the kidnapping was still unclear Wednesday. Investigators, including crime lab experts, were planning to work through the night to comb through the crime scene, Warnke said. “Now, our focus is on conviction,” he added.
Family members of the victims were notified of their deaths Wednesday and connected with resources for “spiritual guidance,” Warnke said.
“There are no words right now to describe the anger I feel and the senselessness of this incident,” Warnke said.
Andrea Salcedo contributed to this report.
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