PATTERSON, Calif. – Authorities said Tuesday they found the body of a 4-year-old boy in a Central California canal, capping the search for the child who was kidnapped from his home two weeks ago.
A water department worker spotted Juliani Cardenas' body floating in the Delta-Mendota Canal and called 911 around 7:30 a.m., said Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson. The body was found about 30 miles downstream from where a vehicle belonging to the man suspected of kidnapping Juliani 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."
Investigators have not located the suspect, who is the ex-boyfriend of Juliani's mother, but they believe his body also will be found in the canal, Christianson said.
The man, 27-year-old Jose Rodriguez, is accused of taking Juliani from the boy's home in Patterson on Jan. 18. A homicide warrant has been issued for Rodriguez, Christianson said.
Search teams began combing the canal 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.
Rodriguez's Corolla was pulled from the bottom of the canal Friday, with no signs of the boy or suspect inside. There was no evidence Rodriguez fled the scene after the car went into the water, Christianson said.
Rodriguez, who has an extensive criminal record that includes an involuntary manslaughter conviction, is accused of snatching Juliani from the arms of the boy's grandmother outside the family home. Authorities have not discussed a motive, but Juliani's mother, Tabitha Cardenas, has said she recently ended her three-year relationship with Rodriguez.
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 Tabitha 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."
Associated Press writer Terry Collins in San Francisco also contributed to this report.