Divers find no bodies in Central California canal

Jan. 28: Rescue workers pull up three cars from a canal in Patterson, Calif.

Jan. 28: Rescue workers pull up three cars from a canal in Patterson, Calif.  (AP)

Divers on Saturday ended their search in a canal without finding the bodies of a missing 4-year-old boy and his accused kidnapper near the underwater site where the suspect's car was found.

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

Rodriguez is suspected of kidnapping Juliani Cardenas, his ex-girlfriend's son, from the boy's grandmother in Patterson on Jan. 18.

The crews "are satisfied that the siphon is clear," Stanislaus County Sheriff's Deputy Royjindar Singh said, referring to the long underwater tunnel connecting two sections of the Delta-Mendota Canal in Central California. "There's no bodies in there."

Rodriguez's damaged 2003 silver Toyota Corolla was recovered Friday evening from the canal outside Patterson, but the pair were not inside.

Authorities will now conduct air and ground searches of the more than 100-mile canal, Singh said.

"It's been very frustrating," Singh said. "But we're going to keep searching until we bring that little boy home."

Divers have been combing the canal for more than a week since a farmworker told Sheriff's officials he saw a car matching Rodriguez's go into the water with a man and a boy inside.

"As always, I've been cautiously hopeful that I would bring little Juliani home alive," Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson said. "But there is absolutely no information or evidence or anything else that tells us this car went into the canal and then (Rodriguez) fled the scene."

Authorities have searched the canal since, pulling up the Toyota and 16 other mostly stolen vehicles. That included Saturday's recovery of a 2005 Ford Taurus reported stolen from San Francisco in 2007, Singh said.

Juliani's mother, Tabitha Cardenas, who has publicly pleaded for her son's safe return, is eight months pregnant with Rodriguez's unborn daughter. She ended her nearly three-year relationship with him several months ago.

On Friday, Cardenas tearfully said on HLN's Nancy Grace that she believes Rodriguez dumped his car in the canal and had help doing it.

"I'm thinking who would do that? I'm thinking it must've been a family member," Cardenas said. "If just you're somebody's friend, why would you go to such great lengths to help him?"

While authorities have feared the worst, the owner of the dive team service contracted by authorities to conduct the underwater search Friday and Saturday said he believed that if the bodies were in the canal, they would have turned up by now.

"If they would have been anywhere, they would have been where the car was" said John DeCicco, owner of Fresno-based Action Towing and Dive Team. "If they were here, we would've found them."

DeCicco said his company has recovered 15 bodies from Central Valley canals over the past several years as part of law enforcement investigations.