AMBER Alert car may have gone into canal

An Amber Alert has been issued for 4-year-old Juliani Cardenas who was taken from his grandmother by a 27-year-old man.

January 20, 2011 6:09:05 AM PST
Wednesday night a vigil was held for the 4-year-old Stanislaus County boy kidnapped from this home on Tuesday afternoon. A witness saw a car plunge into a canal on Wednesday after a statewide AMBER Alert was issued and now investigators are searching for the boy or the car in the canal. On Thursday, divers and deputies will resume their search.

A man who works in the area saw a car matching the description of the silver Toyota Corolla go into the canal Tuesday evening, but said he was afraid to report it. He told his son, who reported it to the sheriff's department Wednesday afternoon.

Friends and family are trying to stay positive, but there were few words spoken on Barros Street during the vigil. Instead, those who attended let their candles and the flames speak for them.

"I'm trying to make the best of a horrible situation. I'm trying to keep good thoughts in my head," said Tabitha Cardenas, the boy's mother.

Cardenas is hoping and waiting for her son to come home. Juliani was kidnapped and authorities are sure the one responsible is Cardenas's ex-boyfriend Jose Esteban Rodriguez, 27. He has a criminal record with a prior conviction for involuntary manslaughter.

When asked if she felt Rodriguez would ever hurt himself or her son, Cardenas replied, "He might hurt himself, but I don't think he would hurt my son."

"At first, I never [saw] any problems with him until the last few months, he's been a little different," said Steven Duran, a friend of Rodriguez.

That's around the time Cardenas ended their relationship. Then on Tuesday, Rodriguez was seen in surveillance video, just 30 minutes before the kidnapping, buying beer at a local gas station. After that, a witness told police he saw the same silver Toyota drive into the Delta-Mendota Canal.

"All of the evidence, based on witness statements, and the tracks leading into the water, in addition to the broken buoy line, that's why we believe that's where this car is at," said Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson.

Four hours into the search, divers pulled a stolen Infinity from the canal. It is not the silver corolla Rodriguez was seen driving. Divers kept looking even after sunset. Finally, the sheriff summed up the search.

"Based on the credibility of the witness and the information we have, we have every reason to believe this case is unfortunately going to end tragically," said Christianson.

The suspect's car is described as a silver Toyota Corolla with a California license plate number: 6HBW445.

The sheriff also told ABC7 he is not very hopeful because no new leads or tips have come in and police have not tracked any activity on Rodriguez's cell phone or credit cards.

The mother of the missing child is eight months pregnant with the child of the suspected kidnapper.

The search will resume at 10 a.m. Thursday.