PATTERSON (CBS 5 / AP) ― The body of a child found Tuesday in a Central Valley canal belongs to a 4-year-old boy who was kidnapped from his home last month, according to authorities.
Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christensen said that officials had confirmed the body was that of young Juliani Cardenas. The discovery capped a two week search for the child.
The body was found in the Delta-Mendota Canal, where a car linked to the kidnapping case was recovered last week.
“From the very beginning, we wanted to find little Juliani alive. That was our goal,” Christianson said. But as the days progressed, “we just knew that wouldn’t happen.”
KCBS’ Bob Melrose Reports:
Investigators believe the boy was snatched from his home in Patterson on Jan. 18 by his mother’s ex-boyfriend, 27-year-old Jose Rodriguez, who has not been found. The abduction triggered a statewide Amber Alert.
Authorities have not discussed a motive, but Juliani’s mother, Tabitha Cardenas, has said she recently ended her three-year relationship with Rodriguez. He has an extensive criminal record that includes an involuntary manslaughter conviction.
Search teams had been combing the canal for over a week for signs of the boy and Rodriguez after a farmworker told authorities he saw a car matching the description of Rodriguez’s silver Toyota Corolla going into the water shortly after the abduction.
The car was pulled from the bottom of the canal last Friday evening with no signs of the suspect or the boy inside.
A water department worker at the canal spotted the boy’s body on Tuesday at 7:30 a.m. near the town of Santa Nella, about 30 miles downstream from the car, and called 911, the sheriff’s office said.
A homicide warrant has been issued for Rodriguez, Christianson said, although there was no evidence Rodriguez fled the scene after the car went into the water and investigators believe his body also will be found in the canal.
In Juliani’s tight-knit neighborhood, where yellow and purple ribbons were pinned on trees, residents gathered after learning about the tragic discovery. Many of the parked vehicles still had “missing” fliers attached to their windows.
Police tape blocked access to the cul-de-sac where Juliani’s family lives. Family members did not come outside to speak with reporters.
Patterson City Councilwoman Deborah Novelli, who visited the family Tuesday afternoon, said they were angry at Rodriguez and unable to understand why this happened.
“They are trying to understand: Where was his head? What was he thinking?” Novelli said, her eyes red from tears.
Darlene Vanderbilt, a neighbor who was home the day Juliani was kidnapped, recalled coming out of her house after she heard screams and seeing Rodriguez’s car whipping down the street. She said the memory keeps replaying in her head.
“It just hurts. It brings it all back,” said Vanderbilt, standing in her driveway a few doors down from Juliani’s home. “We couldn’t do anything more than what we did: call the police and get them looking for him.”
Another neighbor, Suzie Ambers, described Juliani as a beautiful, sweet child who loved life.
“We were all praying and hoping it would turn out different,” Ambers said. “But in our hearts, we knew.”
Ambers said their focus now must shift to Cardenas, who is eight months pregnant with Rodriguez’s child. An ambulance was parked outside the family home Tuesday, in case the expectant mother needed to be taken to the hospital.
“We are with Tabitha,” Ambers said. “The whole block is supporting her.”
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