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Authorities believe body found in California canal is abducted boy

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Sheriff: Body found likely missing boy
  • NEW: Outside prayer service held in Patterson
  • Authorities believe the body is that of Juliani Cardenas, 4
  • They also believe the remains of his suspected abductor are in the canal

Don't miss "Nancy Grace" at 8 ET Tuesday night for the latest in the search for Juliani Cardenas.

(CNN) -- California authorities extended their condolences Tuesday to the family of Juliani Cardenas, 4, after a body was found that they say matches his physical description.

Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson said he believes the remains of Jose Esteban Rodriguez, the man accused of abducting the boy, are also in the canal. A homicide warrant will be issued for Rodriguez, the former boyfriend of the boy's mother, as they continue searching for him, he said.

"We want to offer our deepest condolences to the Cardenas family," the sheriff said. "This is a very difficult time for them."

The clothing on the body matches what the child was wearing when he was abducted two weeks ago, Christianson said. Formal identification of the boy's body will take two to three weeks, he said.

Christianson told HLN's Nancy Grace that the family will be able to proceed with funeral plans.

The discovery was made near Santa Nella, about 31 miles south of the area being searched for Juliani, who has been missing since he was taken from his grandmother January 18 in Patterson, Stanislaus Deputy Royjindar Singh told CNN.

Juliani's mother, Tabitha Cardenas, said last week that Rodriguez -- with whom she broke up about five months ago and who is the father of her unborn child -- would not purposely drive her son into the water.

Missing boy not in car found in canal

A person who answered at the Cardenas home Tuesday said there would be no comment on the developments. As the family mourned in private, the community held an outside evening prayer service in Patterson.

A water authority employee found the body at 7:38 a.m. Tuesday, said Merced County Sheriff's Deputy Tom MacKenzie.

"It's very difficult to find the body of a child," Christianson said. "It's been a very emotional case for everybody."

Authorities on Saturday had called off their lengthy search for Juliani in one part of the 117-mile Delta-Mendota Canal, but said the search would continue elsewhere.

Friday night, divers in the canal located the vehicle belonging to Rodriguez, but there was no sign of him or the child. A witness had reported seeing the 2003 silver Toyota Corolla going into the water January 19 with a man and youngster inside, Christianson said last week.

"From the very beginning, we wanted to find little Juliani alive," the sheriff said Tuesday. "Everything led us to that canal."

The car had been trapped in 50 feet of water and was intertwined with two other vehicles, Christianson said Friday. The windows of the car were found opened and it was badly damaged, he said.

Cardenas had said Rodriguez either wanted to have her son for himself or wanted revenge for their breakup. She said she never thought he'd harm Juliani.

Rodriguez "wanted to be with my son," Cardenas said on January 20. "He wanted to be with my son so bad that he took it to the extreme."

Cardenas said Rodriguez came to her house early January 18, but she told him to leave because Juliani was asleep and had a cold. The boy's school later called her after Rodriguez had gone there asking to spend time with the boy.

Later that afternoon, Cardenas got a call from her frantic mother, who said Rodriguez had again come by and, despite her struggle, had snatched the boy from her arms.

Christianson said last week there has been "no electronic signature of any kind" from Rodriguez since the boy's abduction, meaning no evidence of cell phone, credit card or debit card use.

CNN's Amanda Watts contributed to this report