Third canal search to be conducted Friday

4-year-old Juliani Cardenas

January 21, 2011 12:20:12 AM PST
A search for a kidnapped child continues after divers searching a canal for a second day failed to find the car they believed 4-year-old Juliani Cardenas and the man who police say kidnapped him were in. Investigators say they will be back on Friday to do another search of the canal with sonar equipment to make sure they didn't miss anything.

It was another trying day for the Patterson family when investigators though they had a credible tip and that the car involved in the abduction was submerged in a canal. By midmorning on Thursday, as the Sheriff himself said, this investigation is back to square one.

As a silver car rose out of the canal, it appeared at first, it might be the missing Toyota Corolla that police feared could contain Juliani, but it wasn't. It was a silver stolen Lexus not related to this case.

"Unfortunately, ladies and gentleman, we have been unable to locate the vehicle. Fortunately that means there's still hope that we're going to find this little boy alive," said Stanlislaus Co. Sheriff Adam Christianson.

Investigators had been focusing on a canal since Wednesday, after a local farm worker reporting seeing a car matching the Toyota's description, driving into the Delta-Mendota Canal.

After the stolen silver Lexus was pulled from the water, Sheriff's deputies compared its tire treads with the marks left on the bank of the canal. They also brought the farm worker out to see if it was the car he saw. The fact that this was not the Toyota gives Juliani's family hope that he is still alive.

"I'm relieved that it wasn't his car because that means he's still in his car. I knew if his car was pulled out, he wasn't going to be in it and my son wasn't going to be in it either," said Juliani's mother Tabitha Cardenas. "Jose's scared. I know he is. He probably doesn't know what to do, but I know he'll start feeling like he's tired of running and he'll want to give up and he'll want to turn himself in."

Stanislaus County deputies say leads in this kidnapping case are coming in from the Sierra to Southern California.

A special crew from Merced County is being brought in first thing in the morning. They'll be checking the areas around the pipeline using sonar equipment.

"That is an area that our divers are unable to get to due to safety concerns, the currents in the water. So it's just too dangerous to send personnel divers into that section, so we're going to try using some equipment," said Dep. Royjindar Singh.

Police say Juliani was kidnapped Tuesday evening by his mother's ex-boyfriend 27-year-old Jose Esteban Rodriguez. Rodriguez has a criminal history that includes an involuntary manslaughter conviction. Tabitha is eight months pregnant with Rodriguez's child.

Surveillance video from a Patterson gas station shows Rodriguez buying beer in the hour before Juliani was snatched from his grandmother's arms. Also in the video, Rodriguez's car is shown pulling into the station.

"Our AMBER Alert is absolutely still active. We want everybody to be looking for this car, looking for the suspect, and looking for our little boy," said Christianson.

"I just want to tell Jose if you're watching, please take my son to a hospital, to the fire department, and just leave my phone number there and tell them, 'Hey, this kid needs to be picked up,'" says Tabitha.

This has been an especially frustrating case for deputies because Rodriguez has left no electronic signature, meaning he has not used any credit cards or cell phones. They say that is highly unusual and there have been no confirmed sightings of the boy or the man.

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