Long Beach, California –
A 13-year-old girl who was kidnapped and sexually assaulted in Texas was rescued in Southern California after a passerby saw her holding a “Help” sign in her parked car, police and federal officials said.
The rescue took place in Long Beach, south of Los Angeles, on July 9, when officers responded to a trouble call and found “an obviously emotional and distressed girl,” police said in a press release Thursday.
“During the investigation, officers learned that the Good Samaritans were in the parking lot when they saw the victim holding up a sign saying ‘Help’ in the parked car. Police recognized the note and immediately called 911,” he said.
Steven Robert Sablan, 61, of Cleburne, Texas, was arrested and indicted by a federal grand jury on Thursday on charges of kidnapping and transporting a minor for criminal sexual activity, according to the US Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles.
Sablan was being held at the Federal Metropolitan Detention Center in downtown Los Angeles. It was not immediately clear whether he had a lawyer.
On July 6, the girl was walking down the street in San Antonio, Texas, when Sablan drove up, pointed a black pistol and told her, “If you don’t get in the car with me, I’ll hurt you,” FBI agents wrote in an affidavit supporting the criminal charges.
The report said the girl had moved to Australia a year ago but left without telling her parents to visit an old school friend with whom she had kept in touch through an internet chat room.
According to the affidavit, the girl told Sablan at some point after getting into Sablan’s car about her friend, saying Sablan could take her on a cruise ship to Australia, but he had to do something for himself.
The suspect stopped the car and sexually assaulted the girl. She told the girl to stop, but she feared she would get hurt if she didn’t comply, investigators wrote.
According to the affidavit, Sablan sexually assaulted the girl several more times while driving from San Antonio through New Mexico, Arizona and into California. Meanwhile, the girl’s mother reported her missing to San Antonio authorities on July 7.
According to documents, the suspect pulled over at a Long Beach laundromat, instructed the girl to change clothes, removed her clothes and abdomen, and gave the girl an opportunity to write “Help me” on a notepad.
When Long Beach police arrived, Sablan was standing outside the car and witnessed the girl utter the word “help me,” officers wrote.
During the arrest, officers found silver handcuffs in Sablan’s back pocket, revealing Sablan was wanted in Fort Worth on suspicion of robbery. A search of the vehicle found a black plastic BB gun, a “help me” sign, a switchblade and black handcuffs in a package labeled “Fetish Fantasy Series Designer Cufflinks,” the documents said.
Sablan was convicted of armed robbery in 1979, armed robbery and robbery in 1985, and possession of a controlled substance in 2016, according to affidavits.
The girl was placed in the custody of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services.