A baby girl, her parents and uncle have been found dead in an orchard in central California, two days after they were kidnapped at gunpoint from their family business, police said.
Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke told a news conference Wednesday night that a farmworker found the victims close to each other in a remote area.
“Our worst fears have been confirmed,” he said. He did not say how and when police believe they had been killed.
Authorities earlier on Wednesday released surveillance video of a man kidnapping 8-month-old Aroohi Dheri; her mother Jasleen Kaur, 27; father Jasdeep Singh, 36; and uncle Amandeep Singh, 39, on Monday.
They were taken from the family's business in Merced, a city of 86,000 people about 200 kilometres south-east of San Francisco in the San Joaquin Valley, California’s agricultural heartland, AP reported.
Mr Warnke on Tuesday said relatives of Jesus Salgado, 48, a convicted robber, had contacted authorities to say he had admitted he was involved with the kidnapping.
Mr Salgado tried to take his own life before police arrived at a home in nearby Atwater. He was in critical condition when taken into custody but has been talking to officers, Mr Warnke said.
The footage showed a man wearing a medical mask first walking past the property before talking to one of the men. Later, it shows him leading the men, who had their hands zip-tied behind their backs, into the back seat of Amandeep Singh’s pickup truck. He then went back to the trailer that served as the business office and led the mother, who was carrying her baby, out and into the pickup before it drove away.
The family was reported missing after a vehicle was found on fire by the side of a motorway late on Monday.
The kidnapper made no ransom demands and no motive for the kidnapping has been established, Mr Warnke said.
“There’s no words right now to describe the anger I feel and the senselessness of this incident,” he said. “I said it earlier: 'There’s a special place in hell for this guy.'”
“We have a whole family wiped out and for what? We don’t know yet."
According to The Times of India, the family was originally from Harsi Pind in the Hoshiarpur district of India's Punjab state.
Family members said nothing was stolen from the trucking company but that their relatives were all wearing jewellery. Mr Warnke had said that after the kidnappings, an ATM card belonging to one of the victims was used in Atwater, about 14km north of Merced.
Mr Salgado was previously convicted of first-degree robbery with the use of a firearm in Merced County, as well as attempted false imprisonment and an attempt to prevent or dissuade a victim or witness. He was sentenced to 11 years in state prison in that case, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said.
He was released from prison in 2015 and discharged from parole three years later. He also has a conviction for possession of a controlled substance, the corrections agency said.
Investigators have not found a link between Mr Salgado and the family to show they knew each other before the kidnapping.
“As of right now, we believe it was random,” Deputy Alexandra Britton said. “We don’t have evidence to prove otherwise.”
Family members had told KXTV-TV that the office for Unison Trucking, the family’s business, had only opened about a week earlier.
“My husband is very peaceful and calm person," said Jaspreet Caur, wife of the kidnapped uncle. "We don’t have any clue why they kidnapped them.”
— With reporting from AP