PATTERSON, Calif. -- The mother of a 4-year-old boy kidnapped two weeks ago by her former boyfriend confirmed on her Facebook page that the child's body was discovered Tuesday morning in a Central California canal.
The body of Juliani Cardenas was found in the Delta-Mendota Canal near Santa Nella, about 30 miles south of where he lived with his mother and grandmother in Patterson.
Though law enforcement officials said no positive identification had been made and wouldn't until DNA testing is done, a posting at 11:10 a.m. PST on Tabitha Cardenas' Facebook page said:
"I have the worst news in the world to tell you all ... My son's body has been found in the canal no DNA has confirmed it but it's his clothes and shoes have and it's a 4 year old boy. So I want everyone to pray that Jose's body is found so we can all know that he's burning in HELL and I don't have to worry about him taking my unborn baby girl."
Tabitha Cardenas is about 8 1/2 months' pregnant. She has said the father is Jose Esteben Rodriguez, her 27-year-old former boyfriend who is suspected of kidnapping Juliani on Jan. 18.
Two minutes after the first Cardenas' first Facebook message, she wrote this:
"I'm not talking to the press or anyone else I just had to let you all know before the news does. ... I love you all very much and my son does too. He's my lil angel now and believe me I'm crying as I am writing this to you all."
The search for Juliani has focused on the canal, from which the Toyota Corolla belonging to Rodriguez was pulled Friday. No bodies were in the car.
Stanislaus County Sheriff's Deputy Royjindar Singh said there would be a news conference later Tuesday.
Singh did not know who found the body, exactly when it was found or any other circumstances. It was discovered near the Santa Nella national veterans' cemetery at midmorning.
Juliani's family was informed, Singh said.
Father Bernard Quinn of Sacred Heart Catholic Parish in Patterson, who baptized the child, was inside the house Tuesday morning after Tabitha Cardenas and her mother, Amparo Cardenas, learned of the discovery. Juliani was grabbed from Amparo Cardenas' arms in front of their home.
Quinn said the women were holding up amazingly well. "They feel supported and strengthened by the community," he said.
Late Tuesday morning, an ambulance was parked in front of the home where Juliani lived.
The Merced County Sheriff's Department issued this statement:
"A small child was pulled from the Delta-Mendota Canal (whose) physical and clothing description match that of the missing Amber Alert child from Stanislaus County. No positive identification has been made and will not be made until DNA testing is done."
Cym Berlynn, who identified herself as a family friend, said a vigil planned for Tuesday would go on at North Park in Patterson. A prayer service was planned as part of the observance.
Tabitha Cardenas has maintained since the kidnapping that Rodriguez would not hurt her son to get back at her, rejecting the idea that he would have driven the car into the canal. She also urged authorities to conduct a wider search for him. She believed he could be in hiding with her child.
There had been no electronic signal from Rodriguez other than a Patterson convenience store security camera spotting him Jan. 18 before the abduction. Rodriguez had not used a credit card, ATM card or his cell phone since the kidnapping.
Since ending the search of canal water by divers Saturday, authorities have relied on a California Highway Patrol airplane and sheriff's patrols along the canal bank to spot any bodies in the water. The patrols have been searching along the canal bank since Monday.
Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson said last week that in cold weather it might take as long as two weeks for a body to float to the surface. Singh asked tipsters who spot a body in the canal to call 911 to ensure the nearest police agency is alerted.
To continue to send dive teams into the water to search for the bodies in the 117-mile canal that runs south from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to Mendota would be an inefficient use of resources and manpower, Christianson said.
Rodriguez is not the boy's biological father. Tabitha Cardenas had a tumultuous relationship with Rodriguez for about three years before it ended a few months ago. She is pregnant with Rodriguez's child.
Rodriguez was convicted of manslaughter in 1999 and also has been charged with unlawful sexual intercourse and drunken driving, law enforcement officials said.
After their breakup, he stalked Cardenas, according to her mother, Amparo Cardenas.
About 4 p.m. on Jan. 18, while Tabitha Cardenas was at college, sheriff's officials said, Rodriguez drove to the home where Juliani lived with his mother and grandmother.
Rodriguez drove up in the Toyota Corolla, pulled Juliani from his grandmother's arms and drove away, officials said.
About 5 p.m., a farm worker on his way home spotted a car matching the description of the suspect's vehicle, with a boy and a man inside, on the canal bank just north of a series of pipes that funnels the canal's water underneath Del Puerto Creek.
The witness said he saw the car drive into the canal, but he panicked and didn't inform sheriff's officials until the following day.
Christianson has said the search still would have been a recovery mission had the farm worker informed authorities immediately because a rescue could not have occurred in time to save anyone.
(c) 2011, The Modesto Bee (Modesto, Calif.).
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