PATTERSON, Calif. – Divers are targeting another area of a California canal in their hunt for a missing 4-year-old boy and his alleged kidnapper, after the man's car was lifted from the murky waters with no sign of the pair.
The damaged Toyota Corolla was recovered from the Delta-Mendota canal around sundown Friday, 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.
Divers were set Saturday to look near a canal siphon in a search that Christianson has said was a recovery, not a rescue.
"As always, I've been cautiously hopeful that I would bring little Juliani home alive," 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."
Christianson said crews had considered suspending the search, but were persuaded by Patterson Police Chief Tori Hughes to continue.
The Toyota and two other cars were found Friday after more than a week of treacherous searching as 13 other vehicles, mostly stolen, were recovered.
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 relationship with Rodriguez several months ago.
On Friday, Cardenas tearfully said on HLN's Nancy Grace that she believes Rodriguez dumped his car in the canal and 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?"
Cardenas then burst into tears. "I'm praying that he's still alive!"
Christianson on Friday said crews will continue to scan the canal for the bodies in the event the bodies floated downstream. He added there is nothing substantial leading them to believe Rodriguez simply dumped 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," Christianson said. "And here we are a week later...and there is still no sign of the suspect and Juliani."
Two of Rodriguez's car windows were down when it was pulled from the canal just after dusk, Christianson said. He said with the cold conditions, it could take as much as two weeks for any bodies to surface.
Divers have been combing the canal after a farmworker told authorities that he saw a car matching Rodriguez's with a man and boy inside head into the water.
"He's absolutely credible. He saw the car go into canal...there's the car," Christianson said Friday, pointing over to the wrecked vehicle several hundred feet way on Friday. "He saw a man and a boy with the car. It's very likely we'll find them somewhere in this canal."
Rodriguez's car was found using sonar in a tunnel about 50 feet below the surface. An underwater camera captured a license plate that confirmed the vehicle belonged to Rodriguez, Christianson said.
Five hours, divers entered the murky, 42-degree water where they attached a tow truck cable to Rodriguez's car and two other vehicles from the canal shortly before their two-hour window closed.
Afterwards, Christianson faced a large media contingent, speaking about his fears for the worst, yet offering up a glimmer of hope.
"We're going to continue to search the canal downstream," Christianson said. "We're going to continue to look, and hold out hope."
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