MERCED — The body of a homicide victim discovered this week near Snelling has been identified as 28-year-old Jose Melendrez of Woodland, Merced County sheriff's investigators said.
An autopsy was conducted by the Merced County coroner's office Thursday, but Sgt. Jason Goins of the department's Major Crimes Unit said detectives aren't releasing a cause of death to protect the integrity of the homicide investigation.
Melendrez last was seen by family members in Woodland on Jan. 26 after he borrowed his brother's green Honda Accord, Goins said. Although his family expected him to return later that day, he never came back.
The day Melendrez's body was found, California Highway Patrol officers found the Honda abandoned off Highway 132 in La Grange, about 15 miles away from where the body was found, Goins said.
Melendrez's family contacted Woodland police about 2 p.m. Wednesday to file a missing person report, not knowing that Merced County sheriff's deputies had found his body that morning, Goins said.
Sheriff's detectives are sharing information with Woodland police in the case, Goins said.
Melendrez's body was found under a bridge on La Grange Road, about three miles north of Merced Falls Road.
A driver who had stopped to take photographs of the scenery found the body, and deputies responded to the scene after receiving a call about 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Alejandro Melendrez, 27, the victim's brother, said his family is in a state of shock. Jose Melendrez is survived by a wife and two children.
"It's devastating. Right now we really can't believe it happened," Alejandro Melendrez said. "My brother didn't have any problems with anyone, whatsoever."
Born and raised in Mexico, Jose Melendrez was the second oldest of four children, coming to the United States in the early 1990s.
Alejando Melendrez said his brother worked as a well driller, but recently had been unemployed after the rainy weather resulted in less work.
Detectives have not released a motive for the crime, and Goins said the victim did not have any known gang ties. Investigators haven't said how long Melendrez's body was under the bridge, although the body was not badly decomposed.
Detectives are asking anyone with information about the crime to call the department's investigations unit at 385-7472. Calls are kept confidential, and you can remain anonymous.