-- Authorities on Friday night extracted a car that they believe was driven into a California canal by an alleged kidnapper -- but didn't find either the suspect or the 4-year-old boy he allegedly abducted inside.
A 2003 silver Toyota Corrolla yanked late Friday out of the Delta-Mendota Canal, near Patterson in northern California, belonged to Jose Esteban Rodriguez, Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson said.
They had been looking for the vehicle since January 19 -- when a witness spotted it going into the water with two people inside, which was one day after Rodriguez allegedly took Juliani Cardenas, 4, out of his grandmother's arms.
After the discovery, Christianson said that two windows of the car were opened, and that it was badly damaged. While he said it's conceivable that Rodriguez and the boy, who weighs all of 40 pounds, got out and are still alive, he said that "the reality is, that's not going to happen."
"It's very likely we'll find someone in the canal," he said. "Bodies can get hung up, debris gets hung up, cars get hung up ...
Tabitha [Cardenas, the boy's mother] deserves every effort we can to bring her son home."
Just prior to this development, Tabitha Cardenas clung to hopes that her son had not drowned in the water and was alive.
"There's still a chance that my son is going to come home," she told HLN's Jean Casarez.
The Toyota was one of three cars pulled from the canal on Friday night, the latest of several vehicles pulled from the water in the search for Juliani and his alleged abductor.
The canal has been the focus of the search since a witness -- described by Christianson as a farm worker in his 50s who was "very familiar with that area" -- saw a car that resembled Rodriguez's Toyota plunge into the canal with a man and youngster inside.
"Everything tells us that car went into the canal and that Jose and Juliani went with it," Christianson said.
The vehicle was trapped in 50-feet deep of water, Christianson told HLN, intertwined with two other vehicles. Besides being a conduit for irrigation water, the canal had been a popular dumping ground for stripped-down stolen vehicles.
Christianson said the search for Juliani would continue, adding that it's been heart-wrenching for rescue personnel as well as the community.
"This has been an emotional case for everyone," he said. "Any time children are involved, it's difficult."
Divers using sonar equipment had been searching the canal for more than a week but were unable to locate the car until Friday, when the FBI brought in additional sonar equipment with a camera system that was able to clearly read the license plate.
Divers had a very short window Friday in which they could retrieve the vehicle. Christianson said gates had to be temporarily closed on the canal to stop the flow of water, in order for divers to get a hook on the car. That left a window of only 30 to 45 minutes to attempt to raise the car, he said.
Tabitha Cardenas said January 21 that she still believed Rodriguez -- whom she broke up with about five months ago and who is the father of her unborn child -- wouldn't purposefully drive her son into the water, and that both were still alive.
"My hopes are high that they're not going to find Jose's car in the canal," she said at that time.
Authorities felt differently, however, saying that despite "hundreds" of tips, "there are no other credible leads that are taking us in a different direction."
Christianson also said there had 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.
Cardenas said Rodriguez either wanted to have her son for himself or wanted revenge against Tabitha Cardenas for their breakup. She said that she ended their relationship because he was physically abusive to her but that she never thought he'd harm Juliani.
Rodriguez "wanted to be with my son," Cardenas said. "He wanted to be with my son so bad that he took it to the extreme."
At an emotional news conference last week, the boy's mother said she believes Rodriguez is troubled -- claiming he told her that he sometimes "hears voices" -- but she did not think he would drown her son or consciously put him in danger. Rodriguez is not the boy's biological father.
"He's scared. Jose's scared. I know he is," Cardenas said. "He probably doesn't know what to do."
Cardenas said Rodriguez went 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 claimed that Rodriguez had again come by and, despite her struggle, had taken the boy from his grandmother's arms. Cardenas said her mother told her that the suspect flashed an obscene gesture, laughed and got into his Toyota, which he had left running.