Kidnapped 13-Year-Old Rescued After Making A ‘Help Me’ Sign

The message written in bright red letters across a crumpled piece of paper was a desperate plea: “Help Me!”

On July 9, when a 13-year-old girl held up the sign while sitting in a car parked outside of a Long Beach, California, laundromat, it led to her rescue – and an arrest in a kidnapping case that spanned four states and three days, federal prosecutors announced last week.

Steven Robert Sablan, 61, was indicted Thursday in California and charged with one count of kidnapping and one count of transportation of a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity. Sablan, who lives in Cleburne, Texas, is scheduled to be arraigned Monday in the United States District Court in Los Angeles. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted of both charges.

An attorney representing Sablan did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The girl was abducted on July 6 after leaving her home without telling her parents, according to court records. She planned to visit a classmate who had moved to Australia the year before. The teen was walking to a San Antonio bus station when Sablan, who was driving a silver Nissan, stopped her, court records state.

He allegedly raised a black handgun and told her to get into the car.

“If you don’t get in the car with me, I am going to hurt you,” he said to the girl, according to investigators.

Fearing for her safety, the teenager got in, court records state.

As he drove, Sablan asked the girl her age, according to court documents. When the subject of Australia came up, Sablan told the teen he could take her to a cruise ship so that she could visit her friend but said “she would need to do something for him if he was going to do something for her,” the complaint states.

He then sexually assaulted her, court records state, and did so at least twice more as they drove from Texas to California.

The girl’s mother reported her missing on July 7.

On July 9, Sablan stopped his car at the laundromat in Long Beach, prosecutors said. That morning, he told the girl to change clothes in the car, then walked inside with their clothing.

Sablan quickly raised suspicions, according to laundromat employees.

Touch Vong, who works at Easy Wash Laundromat, told KABC that the man had a “scared” look in his eyes and asked where he could get food. She decided to stall him, telling him that a nearby restaurant didn’t open until 11 am on Sundays – a lie – and that he could wait inside.

“I feel like God told me to stop him,” Vong told the outlet.

While Sablan was inside the laundromat, the teenager scribbled her plea for help on a ripped piece of paper, court records state. She held it up, catching the attention of passersby – one of whom called authorities.

Around 10:20 Long Beach Police Department officers were dispatched to the site. They found Sablan standing next to the car, with the girl still sitting inside, court documents state. Officers saw her mouth the word “help,” prompting them to separate the two, according to the documents.

The girl told the officers that Sablan had a gun underneath the driver’s seat, the complaint states. When they ran an inquiry on the Nissan, the officers found an active warrant for Sablan in connection to a burglary in Texas, the complaint states.

When officers searched Sablan’s car, they found a BB gun, the girl’s sign, a switchblade and handcuffs, according to court documents.

Long Beach Police Chief Wally Hebeish praised the “Good Samaritan” who called 911 after seeing the girl’s sign.

“This incident highlights the critical role community members play in keeping people safe,” Hebeish said in a news release.

The Washington Post

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