A 13-year-old girl who was kidnapped in Texas was rescued more than a thousand miles away in California after a good Samaritan saw her “Help Me!” sign and contacted authorities.
The suspect, Steven Robert Sabalan, 61, of Cleburne, Texas, was arrested July 9 and booked into the Long Beach City Jail on charges of kidnapping, lewd and lascivious acts with a child, and fugitive from justice, the Long Beach Police Department said in a news release.
On Thursday, a federal grand jury indicted him with one count of kidnapping and one count of transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity. It’s not clear if he has obtained an attorney.
The girl, who was not identified, was kidnapped at gunpoint near a bus stop in San Antonio on July 6, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said.
Sabalan allegedly approached the girl in his vehicle and demanded she get in, saying “If you don’t get in the car with me, I am going to hurt you,” the office said in a news release. Fearing for her safety, the girl got into the car.
Over the next two days, Sabalan allegedly drove the girl more than 19 hours from Texas to California. Authorities said he sexually assaulted her on numerous occasions.
On July 9, Sabalan went to a laundromat in Long Beach to wash their clothes, according to federal prosecutors. While he was inside the girl wrote “Help me!” on a piece of paper and held it up. A witness saw the sign and called police, leading to the girl’s rescue.
Long Beach Police Chief Wally Hebeish thanked the community for helping the girl.
“This incident highlights the critical role community members play in keeping people safe,” he said in a statement. “I would also like to acknowledge our officers for their swift response and actions which led to getting this victim to safety.”
The girl was placed in the care of the Department of Children and Family Services and has since been reunited with her family, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
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