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.”
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