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Body of missing boy found in canal
Community responds with outpouring of sympathy
Juliani pic2
More than 1,000 people attended a heart wrenching candle-light vigil Tuesday night at Patterson City Hall for Juliani Cardenas, who was found deceased earlier in the day in the Delta-Mendota Canal near Santa Nella. - photo by JONATHAN MCCORKELL / The Journal

The yellow and blue ribbons tied to the palm trees outside the Patterson Police Department that were a symbol of the hope and effort to bring Juliani Cardenas home safely whipped in the wind Tuesday afternoon as Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson made the grim announcement that a body matching that of the missing 4-year-old boy was pulled from the canal Tuesday morning.

A positive identification of the body is pending a DNA test, but Christianson said the remains match the boy’s physical description and the clothing was the same attire he was last seen wearing the day he was abducted from his Patterson home.

The results of the DNA test could take two to three weeks to obtain, Christianson said.

Posting on her Facebook page Tabitha Cardenas, Juliani’s mother, confirmed the tragic conclusion to the exhaustive search for her little boy.

“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 but its 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 ….=’(“

A few minutes later she posted, “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 …”

Juliani Cardenas was kidnapped Jan. 18, when Jose Esteban Rodriguez, 27, his mother’s ex-boyfriend, snatched him from his grandmother’s arms outside their Patterson home and drove away with him in a Toyota Corolla. An Amber Alert was issued soon after the kidnapping.

About an hour later a farm worker saw the Toyota Corolla drive into the canal near Zacharais Road in Patterson. The witness contacted the sheriff’s department the next day and told investigators he saw a man and a child in the vehicle. The sheriff has said previously that even if the man had reported the sighting immediately, it still likely would have been a recovery effort because of the swift moving waters and its proximity to the siphon system.

“We extend our deepest condolences to the Cardenas family,” Christianson said. “This is a very difficult time for them and a difficult time for everyone in the community.”

The body was discovered around 7:30 a.m. in the Delta-Mendota canal in the Santa Nella area, about 31 miles south of where the witness saw the vehicle go into the water.

The discovery was made by a water authority employee out doing regular maintenance work.

The announcement by Christianson outside the Patterson Police Department was a somber piece of news for the dozens and dozens of community members who came out for the noon press conference. As word spread a Facebook page named Find Juliani Cardenas (ca) began to fill with thousands of posts from people near and far, all offering condolences and struggling with the question of how such harm could befall an innocent child. Nanette Ybarra, who posted that she lives up the street from the Cardenas family, wrote “I didn’t want it to end this way! I cant (sic) make sense of this. Poor, poor baby Juliani. Your life was worth so much more.”

Early on in the investigation everything was leading searchers to the canal, though the mother continued to hold out hope for a happy reunion with her son.

“We wanted to find little Juliani alive,” Christianson said. “As the days progressed, and the investigation progressed, everything led us to the canal.”

The sheriff said the family was notified of the discovery early Tuesday morning and that a victim’s advocate from the Federal Bureau of Investigations was with them. Tabitha Cardenas is close to nine months pregnant with Rodriguez’s baby.

With the discovery of the body the case became an active homicide investigation and an arrest warrant for Rodriguez was issued. However, investigators believe Rodriguez’s body is also somewhere in the canal.

“He (Rodriguez) doesn’t have the money or the infrastructure to pull off an abduction like this and then just disappear,” Christianson said.

Since the kidnapping Rodriguez has not used any credit or debit cards, or his cell phone.

The sheriff said they would continue to look for Rodriguez, but that divers would not be searching the waterway. The search will primarily be conducted by law enforcement agencies on patrol.

Rodriguez was convicted of manslaughter in 1999, and was also previously charged with unlawful sexual intercourse and driving under the influence.

Divers with the Stanislaus and Merced counties sheriff’s departments searched the canal for numerous days, pulling up one stolen vehicle after another. The searchers found the Toyota Corolla Friday, but when it was pulled up from the murky water there were no bodies inside it. Two windows had been rolled down.

The car has been impounded and is being processed for evidence.

People wishing to donate to the Cardenas family can do so through an account with Bank of the West, care of the Juliani Cardenas fund.

A memorial bike ride for Juliani Cardenas will start at noon on Saturday. The ride will start at the 76 station at 226 N. 2nd St. in Patterson and will pass the Cardenas house, the canal, and conclude at the Buffalo Wild Wings Bar & Grill at 3401 Dale Rd. in Modesto. Buffalo Wild Wings will donate 20 percent of all money raised to a special memorial fund for the Cardenas family.

To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.