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Marijuana dispute likely led to killing of 6 people found in Mojave Desert, officials say

Investigators believe that the killings of six men in San Bernardino County, in which four of the victims were burned, was the result of a dispute over marijuana.
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The killings of six people found shot in the California desert, in which some of the victims were also burned, is believed to have stemmed from a dispute over marijuana, officials said Monday.

Five people were arrested Sunday in San Bernardino County, east of Los Angeles, and the sheriff’s office said there are no other outstanding suspects.

“I can guarantee you we got the five right people,” Sheriff Shannon Dicus said at a news conference.

The six victims were found last week in or near two vehicles at an intersection in El Mirage, in the Mojave Desert, after one of the victims called 911 at around 8:16 p.m. Tuesday and said he’d been shot but didn’t know where he was, sheriff’s Sgt. Michael Warrick said.

“It appeared the call ended,” Warrick said. The phone was tracked, and a Dodge Caravan that had been shot multiple times was found, as well as a Chevy Trailblazer, he said.

Five bodies were found there, and a sixth victim was found some distance away, Warrick said. Four of the victims had been burned at the location, he said.

“We are confident that this appears to be a dispute over marijuana, which resulted in the murders,” he said.

The scale of and the reason for the marijuana dispute were not clear.

The sheriff’s office identified those arrested as Toniel Baez-Duarte, 34, and Mateo Baez-Duarte, 24, both of Apple Valley, and Jose Nicolas Hernandez-Sarabia, 33, Jose Gregorio Hernandez-Sarabia, 34, and Jose Manuel Burgos Parra, 26, all of Adelanto.

They were being held without bond Monday night as the district attorney reviews the case for charges, Warrick said.

Four of the victims have been identified, the sheriff’s department said.

They are Baldemar Mondragon-Albarran, 34, of Adelanto; Franklin Noel Bonilla, 22, of Hesperia; Kevin Dariel Bonilla, 25, of Hesperia; and a 45-year-old man whose name is being withheld pending notification of next of kin, the sheriff's department said.

Voters legalized recreational marijuana in California in 2016, but Dicus, the sheriff, said illicit marijuana grows have been a scourge in areas of the San Bernardino County desert, as well as other places.

Dicus said his office last year executed 411 search warrants related to illegal grows in San Bernardino County and seized 655,000 plants, 74,000 pounds of processed marijuana and around $370 million. Fourteen "honey oil" labs were also found, Dicus said.

Warrick said eight guns were recovered when the sheriff’s office executed search warrants and made the five arrests related to last week's killings. The areas of search warrants were adjacent to illegal marijuana grows, but none were at grows, he said.

The case remains under active investigation, Warrick said.