PATTERSON, Stanislaus County (CBS 5 / AP) ―Divers have ended their search Saturday of a Central California canal without finding the bodies of a missing 4-year-old boy and his alleged kidnapper near the underwater site where the suspect’s car was found.

A dive team searched an underwater tunnel Saturday afternoon for Juliani Cardenas and 27-year-old Jose Esteban Rodriguez without success. Sonar also failed to turn up any sign of bodies.

Authorities pulled the kidnapping suspect’s car from the bottom of a frigid Central California canal Friday, but the bodies of the suspect and the missing 4-year-old boy were not inside.

The badly damaged Toyota Corolla recovered from the Delta-Mendota canal along with two other vehicles just before 6 p.m. Friday was empty, Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson said.

The car belongs to 27-year-old Jose Rodriguez, who is suspected of kidnapping Juliani Cardenas, his ex-girlfriend’s son, from the arms of the boy’s grandmother in Patterson on Jan. 18. Juliani’s mother, Tabitha Cardenas, reportedly ended her relationship with Rodriguez several months ago, and he is the father of her unborn child.

Christianson said authorities continue to search the canal for the bodies in the event they floated downstream. He said there is no evidence that Rodriguez fled the scene after dumping the car.

“He is not sophisticated enough, doesn’t have the infrastructure, doesn’t have the financing and doesn’t have the support to pull off that type of abduction,” the sheriff said.

Two of the car’s windows were down when it was pulled from the canal, Christianson said.

Divers have been combing the canal since last week after receiving a tip that a car matching the one in which Rodriguez allegedly fled was seen heading into the water. They recovered 13 cars before pulling out the final three on Friday.

Rodriguez’s car was found using sonar Friday morning in a tunnel about 50 feet below the surface. An underwater camera showed its license plate and confirmed the vehicle was the suspect’s 2003 silver Corolla, Christianson said.

A single diver entered the murky, 42-degree water shortly after 4 p.m. to attach a line to the car so a tow truck could drag it from the canal. A backup diver was in the water to assist.

During a briefing for reporters Friday afternoon, Christianson said he feared the worst.

“We’re certainly saddened by the fact that we found the car even though we knew we would,” he said. “As these days have progressed, we knew that the likelihood of bringing little Juliani home alive was diminishing exponentially.”

He struck a more optimistic note Friday evening, telling reporters: “We’re going to continue to search the canal downstream. We’re going to continue to look and hold out hope.”

(© 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

Comments (27)
  1. MISSY G says:

    I hope the little one is safe somewhere!

  2. Timeka McGowan says:

    I pray that he didnt murder/suicide and he was just trying to throw off investigators search. God please let him be somewhere safe.

  3. Rev Julian Smith says:

    Would like to know where to send card to this mom. This is a mother’s worse nightmare to happen. I send prayers out for that family.

    Rev. Julian Smith

    1. xtanner says:

      So many people forget that the suspects family are victims too. As with this case and many others, they are burdened knowing their loved one is capable of doing something so horrible, and they will forever beat themselves up wondering if it was something the did or didn’t do that this person is capable
      of something sor horendous. It was not the families fault, Everyone in this case needs prayers. Don’t forget thelae enforcement responders, They put so much into this that stress and emotions trickle down all the way to dispatchers., people that ha

  4. D says:

    Oh no, I hope little angel is ok.

  5. Paul and Felissa says:

    My wife and I pray for Juliana’s safe return. Our prayers encompass the family in their time of sorrow.

  6. roj says:

    “Almost every day brought the discovery of another vehicle in the waterway.”
    Think they better do something about that also.

  7. Krish says:

    Dear God.. please help the souls involved in this and pray that everyone is safe, unharmed and alive. Prayers are for the mother and the yet to be born child.

  8. MC says:

    I am so sad to hear they found the car. Praying the Juiliani is not inside.

  9. Cindy says:

    Why oh who do people have to take the lives of little babies when it is their lives that suck. It is the highest form of cruelty to all who are left.

  10. It's true says:

    My heart goes out to this woman who was gullible enough to trust this man. Ladies, please, If the man you are “dating” has been convicted of a violent crime (manslaughter in this case) it means he is capable of violent behavior and inflicting harm on you and/or your loved ones. It doesn’t matter how nice, or how sweet, or how handsome he may be. He’s already proven it. Please, exercise caution and judgement!

    1. Mike says:

      What a great time to express your feeling…. You are an absolute (insert expletive here)….You have no tact and should keep comments like this to your self or find a better time or place to express them….

      1. Reality Strikes says:

        Sorry Mike but reality is a bi&%h!!!! The child was murdered by this (insert expletive). And the comments posted by It’s True are true. For all those women who like the bad boy, they are bad for a reason and you will also become their victim.

  11. Nana says:

    As a grandmother I cannot even imagine what Juliani’s grandmother is suffering. To have her grandson taken from her arms is unimaginable. My heart and prayers are with Juliani’s family. I’ll hold my grandson closer and tighter.

  12. Norna says:

    I remember seeing the Amber Alert for this for days. I pray the little boy is still alive and the family finds comforting in this time. I just buried an 8 year old cousin yesteday so I understand the heaviness this will bring to all his loved ones. All the best

  13. Kathyann says:

    Please GOD let that car be empty.

  14. Ida says:


    My prayer is that the little one is ok…..and that the mother finds peace….easier said than done i’m sure….but then that’s why we havea a God…he’ll help…..

  15. Gail Barbeau-Juarez says:

    May God protect little Juliani from harms way! My prayers go to the Mother, may she find comfort and peace!

  16. Bonnie says:

    Thank God the car was emty!

    Let’s pray now, that there are no bodies downstream – let’s hope the sicko boyfriend has friends and that they are safe somewhere and are alive and well!

  17. callmenameless says:

    they are so in mexico right now!!!!!!!!!!!! the little one has no clue whats going on right now!!!!!!!! Sr. dbag….knew how to play the game!!!!!

  18. sheila says:

    I feel that the child is alive and he has him some place in mexico. And he has family members helping him hide. Also staged the car to look like they came out of the windows in the water. The mother needs to be carful because he might be waiting for her to give birth to come for the baby next. So be aware. I pray for your baby and your son safe return. And your health..

  19. redbeard says:

    I’m not a big one for praying. But the way they say there are no atheists in foxholes — when I heard they found the car I said, “God let the car be empty.” But now I read that the car was empty but maybe the bodies washed downstream and my heart is breaking.

  20. Violet says:

    Dear God, please protect this little boy and bring him home alive and safe.

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