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Bodies of kidnapped California family including baby found in orchard

A baby girl and three other family members who were kidnapped at gunpoint have been found dead in a central California orchard (Andrew Kuhn/The Merced Sun-Star/AP)
A baby girl and three other family members who were kidnapped at gunpoint have been found dead in a central California orchard (Andrew Kuhn/The Merced Sun-Star/AP)

A baby girl and three other family members who were kidnapped at gunpoint have been found dead in a central California orchard.

Sheriff Vern Warnke announced on Wednesday the bodies were found in a Merced County orchard, about 140 miles south-east of San Francisco, and told reporters: “Our worst fears have been confirmed.”

The announcement came after authorities released surveillance video of a man kidnapping eight-month-old Aroohi Dheri, her parents and uncle from their business on Monday in Merced in the San Joaquin Valley.

Authorities earlier said the four were taken by a convicted robber who tried to kill himself a day after the kidnappings.

California Family Kidnapped
Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnkes said the bodies were found in a Merced County orchard  (Andrew Kuhn/The Merced Sun-Star/AP)

The kidnapper made no ransom demands but the sheriff has said he believes it was a financially motivated crime.

Relatives of Jesus Salgado, 48, contacted authorities reporting that he had admitted to them he was involved with the kidnapping, Mr Warnke told KFSN-TV on Tuesday.

Mr Salgado tried to take his own life before police arrived at a home in Atwater, and he has since been hospitalised, the sheriff added.

Efforts to reach Mr Salgado’s family were unsuccessful on Wednesday.

Before the bodies were found, Mr Warnke said detectives had not been able to speak to Mr Salgado, who has been under medical sedation in the hospital.

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

The sheriff’s office said firefighters on Monday found Amandeep Singh’s truck 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.

Merced County Undersheriff Corey Gibson said a farmer found a phone belonging to one of the victims on a street in Dos Palos, a town 30 miles south-west of Merced, and answered it when the family called it.

Mr Warnke said that while detectives have not established any motive or determined whether Mr Salgado worked with any accomplices, he believes the suspect was driven by money and colluded with someone else.

“I fully believe that there was at least one other person involved,” the sheriff said, noting that he does not have any evidence to back that up.

He added: “My speculation is that it’s financial.”

The sheriff’s office said the FBI, the California Department of Justice, and other local law enforcement agencies are helping with the investigation.