A 13-year-old girl kidnapped in Texas was rescued from her kidnapper in California after a passerby saw her hold a piece of paper that read "Help Me!" to the inside window of a parked car, federal investigators and local police said.
The Long Beach Police Department responded to an "unknown trouble call" at 10:19 a.m. on July 9, it noted in a press release Thursday. When the police arrived, they found the young victim, who was "visibly emotional and distressed."
Investigators soon learned the call came from good Samaritans in the same parking lot who immediately called 9-1-1 after seeing the victim hold up the "Help Me!" note.
"I want to commend our community members for their vigilance and willingness to get involved by calling 9-1-1," Long Beach Chief of Police Wally Hebeish said. "This incident highlights the critical role community members play in keeping people safe."
Steven Robert Sablan, a 61-year-old man from Celburne, Texas, was arrested for the crime. A federal grand jury indicted him Thursday on one count of kidnapping and one count of transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity.
According to an affadavit supporting the criminal complaint, Sablan was driving a gray Nissan Sentra on July 6 when he approached the victim as she walked down a San Antonio street. He then allegedly raised a handgun to his side and said, "If you don't get in the car with me, I am going to hurt you."
At some point, Sablan told the girl he could take her to visit a friend in Australia she had mentioned, but only if she did something for him first, documents state. He then began sexually assaulting her, and over the next few days, he drove the girl from Texas to California and repeatedly sexually assaulted her.
Once they reached Long Beach, Sablan parked at a laundromat, where he took both of their clothes inside, according to the affidavit. The girl used that moment to write the "help me" note.
Police arrived to find Sablan standing outside of his car. The victim, still inside of it, mouthed the word "help," court documents said.
Authorities then searched the vehicle and found a black BB gun, the "Help Me" sign and a pair of handcuffs. Police determined it was the missing girl, whose mother reported her missing to San Antonio police on July 7.
Sablan's arraignment is now scheduled for Jul 31. If convicted of the charges against him, he faces a statutory maximum sentence of life in federal prison.
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