Merced County community starts candlelight vigil, in shock over kidnapping and murder of Sikh family

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Sukhdeep Singh, a relative of the family kidnapped recently, speaks with the media in Merced, California, U.S. October 5, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS Nathan Frandino

The Indian-American community in Merced County, California, is reeling from the tragedy earlier this week in which four members of a family were kidnapped and shot in cold blood execution style, in a remote area. The four family members who were kidnapped included 8-month old Aroohi Dheri, mother Jasleen Kaur, 27, father Jasdeep Singh, 36, and the baby’s uncle Amandeep Singh, 39. The family of the victims conveyed through the Sheriff’s office that at this time, they do not wish to have any donations. The suspect Jesus Manuel Salgado, has now been charged.

A vigil for the family kidnapped and murdered recently is held at a downtown park in Merced, California, U.S.,October 6, 2022. REUTERS/Nathan Frandino

Hundreds gathered for the vigil where jumbo-size photos of the victims were displayed in the square and community leaders spoke about supporting the bereaved family for as long as it was needed. Religious leaders from different faiths spoke of the tragedy and expressed solidarity as the vigil began, news reports said.

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According to a KCRA television report October 6, 2022, the Sheriff of Merced County Verne Warnke said the suspect in the killing of four family members who went missing Oct. 3, Jesus Manuel Salgado was a former employee of the Singhs.

The Sheriff also likened Salgado’s behavior to the 2005 case for which he was convicted and put in prison, only to be released in 2015. In that case as well, Salgado went to his previous employers and demanded money that he believed they owed him. “I believe it could be similar here,” Warnke said on KCRA. “I believe his intention originally was to kill these people,” he added, and authorities suspect Salgado was working with someone else.

In a Jan. 6 evening update, the Sheriff’s office said, “This evening, Jesus Manuel Salgado, the suspect in the kidnapping and murder of Aroohi Dheri, Jasleen Kaur, Jasdeep Singh, and Amandeep Singh, was booked into the Merced County Jail. He was arrested for four counts of murder and four counts of kidnapping. Our Detectives, alongside investigators from assisting agencies, will continue to follow up on any leads of additional people who may have been involved in this horrific incident.”

The family of the victims also conveyed through the Sheriff’s office “that they are not asking for donations or seeking any assistance at this time.” There is no GoFundMe account or any other donation links set up. “If that changes, the Merced County Sheriff’s Office will be the one to announce that,” the Sheriff’s office said.The family also conveyed that, “They greatly appreciate everyone’s willingness to help the family, but at this time they ask for privacy so they can grieve and process what has taken place.”

“We are both horrified and deeply saddened to learn that all four members of the family reportedly kidnapped in Merced County, CA, earlier this week were found dead last night,” the Sikh Coalition tweeted on Oct. 6, 2022. The organization told News India Times it has been in touch with some members of the local sangat, and that it was continuing to monitor the story closely for further developments or any indications about motive.

Bajwa Singh, 36, a resident of Atwater, lights a candle at a vigil for the family kidnapped and murdered recently in Merced, California, U.S., October 6, 2022. REUTERS/Nathan Frandino

Members of the Indian-American community organized the four-night vigil to deal with the shock. Starting Oct. 6 night, the vigil will continue till Sunday Oct. 9 nigh.

“Tonight was the community coming together and showing the Singh family that ‘we’re here with you and we will be here with you for as long as you need us, and we will remember the names of those we lost,’”  family friend Priya Lakireddy is quoted saying in the Fresno Bee.

Merced Mayor Matthew Serratto said the community was heartbroken, but confronting the evil. “There is anger, there is sadness, but in the face of that, the community is here,” he is quoted saying in Fresno Bee.

One community member, Paramjeet Singh, told KCRA, “It’s a really big tragedy” for the family and the community. Another community member Edwin Kanth said it was “very very tough for the family. They (victims’ family) can’t even speak to anyone.”

The Singhs immigrated to the U.S. in the early 2000s, KCRA reported, and worked hard to start their trucking business.

Meanwhile, in India, the Chief Minister of Punjab Bhagwant Mann revealed that the murdered family hailed from Harsi village in Hoshiarpur District. He also urged the Government of India to pursue the matter with United States.

The U.K. Guardian newspaper quoted Jaspreet Caur, the wife of the kidnapped uncle, saying, “My husband is very peaceful and calm person. We don’t have any clue why they kidnapped them.”

On Oct. 4, the Merced County Sheriff’s Office provided an update which said that the ATM card of one of the victims was used at a bank.

“On October 4, 2022, in the morning hours, Merced County Sheriff Detectives received information that one of the victim’s ATM cards was used at an ATM located at a bank in the City of Atwater.”
“At approximately noon, working in conjunction with our local law enforcement partners, the Sheriff’s Office received information that identified Jesus Manuel Salgado (48-years-old) as a person of interest in this investigation. Prior to law enforcement involvement, Salgado attempted to take his own life. Salgado is in our custody, currently receiving medical attention and in critical condition.”
On Oct. 6, the Sheriff’s department provided another update categorically stating that “All four victims were kidnapped by Jesus Salgado from their business…” on Oct. 3rd, and that “Our focus now has turned to the prosecution of this horrific crime.”
The California Department of Justice investigators have been processing the scene where the bodies were found.
Initially, the Sheriff’s office did not wish to disclose any details, and the Sheriff said they would keep details close to the chest till more facts became known.
“We are not releasing any details about the crime scene or speculation on any motive or cause of death as this is an ongoing investigation. As soon as we are able to give more details we will.”
The suspect, in this case, Jesus Salgado is still being medically treated and investigators are still interviewing him, the Sheriff’s office said, adding, “Our thoughts are with the family in their time of grief and we ask that everyone respect their privacy.”
Anyone with information regarding this incident is asked to call the Merced County Sheriff’s Office at (209)385-7547.
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