A community in central California is grappling with the grievance of losing an 8-month old baby, her parents and her uncle, who were kidnapped and killed earlier this week allegedly by a former employee of their family-owned business.
Residents attended vigils held this week in downtown Merced for baby Aroohi Dheri, parents Jasleen Kaur and Jasdeep Singh, and the child’s uncle, Amandeep Singh.
Relatives of the victims expressed their anguish and heartbreak at a vigil held Thursday night at Merced’s Bob Hart Square, CNN affiliate KCRA reported.
“Our family just lost four precious family souls,” said cousin Sukhdeep Singh at the vigil. “Now, we’re all shattered.”
Many people lit candles to honor the family and mourn their deaths, which authorities believe unfolded Monday after they were kidnapped at gunpoint from their trucking business in Merced.
After days of searching, the family’s bodies were recovered Wednesday evening from an orchard in Merced County on Wednesday after a farmer reported the remains to law enforcement.
Police say they have arrested two brothers in connection to the kidnappings and killings.
Jesus Manuel Salgado, who is a former employee of the family’s trucking business, was arrested on four counts of murder and four counts of kidnapping in the case, Merced County sheriff’s spokesperson Alexandra Britton said.
Alberto Salgado, his brother, was arrested on preliminary charges of criminal conspiracy, accessory, and destroying evidence in connection with the case, Britton told CNN Friday.
When Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke announced the recovery of the family’s bodies, he said that “there’s a special place in hell” for the perpetrator.
“The circumstances around this, when we are able to release everything, should anger the hell out of you,” Warnke said.
Both Salgado brothers have been booked at the Merced County Jail, the sheriff’s office said.
As of Friday, authorities haven’t disclosed how the family was killed and did not release a confirmed motive. CNN was not immediately able to identify attorneys for the Salgado brothers, and calls to family members have gone unanswered.
The armed abduction, which was recorded on the business’ surveillance cameras, has shaken the community of nearly 90,000 people. Support has been shown for the relatives and friends grieving the sudden loss of four members of the Sikh community who emigrated to the US from India seeking the American dream.
“They’re going to need our support, our help, and we ask the community to stay with us, help us, help them,” family friend Ranjeet Singh said at the vigil, according to KCRA.
The vigils, which began Thursday, will continue through the weekend to offer the community the opportunity to mourn openly together.
“We cannot adequately express our sorrow for the Singh family and friends who have lost their loves ones. No family should have to endure such a horrible tragedy.” the city said in a statement posted online. “Merced stands with the Sikh community.”
As the family of the victims mourn the loss of their loved ones, they are also remembering them as hard-working people who wanted to provide for their families.
Now they are asking those who can contribute to a verified GoFundMe account to help the family get through their loss.
“As immigrants to America, they worked tirelessly for 18 years to achieve safety, security, and community for themselves and their families,” the GoFundMe page states. “Aman and Jasdeep were the primary bread earners for the family, supported their elderly parents, and lived under one roof.”
Amandeep Singh has left behind two children – ages 9 and 6 – along with his wife, Jaspreet Kaur.
“Aman was the rock of his family, a great dad who always made time to cuddle his son Ekam, read with his daughter Seerat, and treasure their many art projects and other accomplishments,” the GoFundMe page says.
A family member told CNN that Jasdeep and Amandeep Singh emigrated to the US from Punjab, India, in 2002 with their parents. As the family struggled to find employment, they slept in their car at one point, the relative said.
“They worked very, very hard to reach the point they did. They worked warehouse jobs, hourly jobs,” the family member told CNN.
Earlier this year, the family grew when Jasleen and Jasdeep became parents of Aroohi. Now, sorrow is settling in.
“There are different cycles of grievance – it’s the shock; it sinks in. We go into the memories and if you see anything that reminds you of something, you burst into tears. If you see another person or other crying in the hall, you burst into tears,” the family member said.
Sheriff Warnke was visibly emotional and frustrated when he announced the deaths of the family Wednesday night.
“There are no words to describe the anger I feel and the senselessness of this incident,” Warnke said. “Horribly, horribly senseless what happened here.”
At the time, he also called for prosecutors to seek the death penalty against the suspect, noting officials have “a lot of circumstantial evidence and direct evidence.”
Authorities believe the family was killed where they were found at an orchard in Merced County not far from where they were kidnapped at their trucking business.
The sheriff’s office did not immediately release details about the charges against Alberto Salgado, other than the charges on which he was being held.
Jesus Salgado, the primary suspect in the family’s case, was sentenced in 2007 to 11 years in prison for charges including first-degree robbery with use of a firearm and attempted false imprisonment, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Also in 2007, Jesus Salgado was sentenced for possession of a controlled substance, the corrections department said. He was released on parole in 2015 after finishing his award and completed parole in 2018, according to the department.