A desperate plea was written in bright red letters over a crumpled piece of paper: “Help Me!”
When a 13-year-old girl held up the sign while sitting in a car parked outside a laundromat in Long Beach, California, on 9 July, it resulted in her rescue – and an arrest in an abduction case that spanned four states and three days, federal authorities said last week.
Steven Robert Sablan, 61, was charged with kidnapping and transportation of a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity on Thursday in California. Sablan, who lives in Cleburne, Texas, is set to appear in federal court in Los Angeles on Monday. He is facing a maximum sentence.
Sablan’s attorney did not immediately reply to demands for comment.
According to court records, the girl was abducted on July 6 after leaving her house without informing her parents. She intended to pay a visit to a classmate who had emigrated to Australia the previous year. According to court records, the youngster was heading to a bus stop in San Antonio when Sablan, who was driving a silver Nissan, stopped her.
He allegedly pointed a black handgun at her and ordered her to get inside 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.
According to court records, he then sexually abused her atleast twice as they drove from Texas to California.
On July 7, the girl’s mother reported her missing.
According to prosecutors, Sablan stopped his car at a laundromat in Long Beach on 9 July. He urged the girl to change her clothes in the car and then walked inside with their clothes.
According to laundry employees, Sablan immediately aroused suspicions.
Touch Vong, who works at Easy Wash Laundromat, told KABC that the man seemed “scared” and asked where he might buy food. She decided to keep him waiting by informing him that a neighbouring restaurant didn’t open until 11 a.m. on Sundays, which was 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, attracting the attention of passersby, one of whom contacted the authorities.
Officers from the Long Beach Police Department were summoned to the scene at 10:20 a.m. According to court filings, they saw Sablan standing next to the car, with the child still inside. According to the records, officers witnessed her mouth the word “help,” causing them to separate the two.
According to the complaint, the girl told the authorities that Sablan had a gun hidden beneath the driver’s seat. When the officers searched the Nissan, they discovered an active warrant for Sablan in connection with a burglary in Texas.
Police Chief Wally Hebeish complimented the “Good Samaritan” who contacted 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.