Orange County sheriff's deputies are searching for three inmates charged with violent crimes who escaped from a Santa Ana jail, authorities said Saturday.
Jonathan Tieu, 20, Bac Duong, 43, and Hossein Nayeri, 37, were discovered missing from the Orange County Central Men's Jail on Friday, the Sheriff's Department said in a statement.
Authorities immediately launched a search of the jail complex and the nearby civic center, but "all indications are that the inmates … have fled the area," the statement said.
"The sheriff's No. 1 priority in this is the safety of our community," Lt. Jeff Hallock told reporters at a news conference Saturday. "We have dedicated all available resources to this search and investigation so that we may bring all three inmates back into custody."
Tieu is charged with murder, Duong with attempted murder and Nayeri with kidnapping and torture, the Sheriff's Department said. All three inmates previously lived in Orange County.
Authorities said the inmates apparently escaped through tunnels holding plumbing pipes within the jail complex, then rappelled from the roof to the ground using a makeshift rope. They declined to specify the tools or material used, saying it was still under investigation.
"We believe this was a very sophisticated, very well-thought out plan that may have been in the works for weeks up to months," said Carrie Braun, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Department. "This is not something they did overnight."
She said officials were still reviewing videos around the Santa Ana jail and civic center to determine which direction the inmates fled. They were discovered missing during the jail's twice-daily body check at 8 p.m. Friday.
It was unclear whether the men were armed but they should be considered very dangerous, Hallock said.
"I think the public should expect the worst if they're encountering them and call 911 and allow the professionals to respond," Hallock said.
Tieu had had been held on a $1-million bond since October 2013 on charges of murder, attempted murder and shooting at an inhabited dwelling. His case is believed to be gang-related.
Nayeri had been held without bond since September 2014 on charges of kidnapping, torture, aggravated mayhem and burglary. Nayeri and three other men are accused of kidnapping a California marijuana dispensary owner in 2012.
They drove the dispensary owner to a desert spot where they believed he had hidden money and then cut off his penis, authorities said.
After the crime, Nayeri fled the U.S. to his native Iran, where he remained for several months. He was arrested in Prague in November 2014 while changing flights from Iran to Spain to visit family.
Bac Duong, the third escaped inmate, was being held without bond since last month on charges of attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, shooting at an inhabited dwelling, being an ex-felon in possession of a firearm and other charges.
The FBI is offering up to a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of any of the three escapees. Braun asked that anyone with information call the hotline at (714) 628-7085 or to call 911 with any sightings of the men, who are described as dangerous.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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