A “dispute over marijuana” led to the deaths of six people found dumped along a desolate stretch of California’s Mojave Desert last week, according to San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.
Five suspects—all men local to the area—were arrested in the case on Sunday, with officials confirming Monday they believed that all directly involved individuals had been apprehended.
They were identified at an evening news conference as Toniel Baez-Duarte, 34, and Mateo Baez-Duarte, 24, both residents of Apple Valley; as well as Jose Nicolas Hernandez-Sarabia, 33, Jose Gregorio Hernandez-Sarabia, 34, and Jose Manuel Burgos Parra, 26, all of Adelanto.
#BREAKING: Authorities have identified these five men as suspects in the mysterious deaths of six people in the Mojave Desert. Some of the victims were believed to be burned. https://t.co/usMr2qaVyR pic.twitter.com/urWrqlXhF7
— FOX 11 Los Angeles (@FOXLA) January 30, 2024
Department officials said that four of the six victims had been identified as of Monday evening—the process of identification having been made difficult by the fact that some of them had been “burned as well as shot.”
San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon Dicus said he could not confirm if the killings had been cartel-related, but that they displayed the “modeling” of cartel violence. He added that it was, at this point, “fair” to link the incident to organized crime.
Dicus explained that the section of desert where the bodies had been found—at a dirt crossing in El Mirage, a city about 100 miles outside of Los Angeles, near Highway 395—was an area known for illicit marijuana growth.
“For all intents and purposes, illicit marijuana was the driving force behind these murders,” the sheriff said.
He declined to comment on whether the slayings had been spontaneous or organized, but suggested that the victims may have been involved in criminal activity on some level.
Five of the bodies were found by sheriff’s deputies performing a welfare check in the area late Tuesday. Another body was found the following morning.
Aerial footage of the scene was so graphic that some local news stations blurred the images on air. Though few details were immediately released by officials at the time, the San Bernadino Sun reported seeing charred vehicle glass and blood soaked into the dirt.
Footage aired by local stations at the scene included a blue SUV with a blown out window and an open door, as well as a silver minivan at the scene. One of the vehicles was riddled with bullet holes.