Quick-thinking bystanders in Southern California helped rescue an out-of-state kidnapping victim who had been holding up a sign that said "help me" inside a car, authorities said Thursday.
The victim, a 13-year-old girl, was allegedly taken from a bus stop in San Antonio, Texas, the Long Beach Police Department said in a news release. The girl had allegedly been ordered into a vehicle at gunpoint on July 6.
On July 9, officers in Long Beach responded to a 911 call, where they found the teen "visibly emotional and distressed." Investigating officers found that Good Samaritans were in a parking lot when they saw the victim in a parked vehicle holding a sheet of paper with "help me" written on it. They "immediately" called 911, police said.
Officers located and arrested the man suspected of kidnapping the teen. He was identified as 61-year-old Steven Robert Sablan. He had been inside a nearby laundromat washing clothes when the teen wrote the sign, officials said. Police said they found the firearm used to kidnap the girl was a black BB gun "which resembled a semi-automatic pistol." They also found a pair of handcuffs inside the car.
Sablan was transported to the Long Beach City Jail, where he was booked for kidnapping, lewd and lascivious acts with a child, and fugitive from justice. He was booked on a $100,000 bail and was released to the custody of the Federal Bureau of Investigation on July 11, according to the jail's website.
Sablan was indicted by a federal grand jury earlier this week and has been charged with one count of kidnapping and one count of transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, the Central District of California U.S. Attorney's Office said in a news release. His arraignment is scheduled for July 31 in United States District Court in downtown Los Angeles.
According to the office, Sablan allegedly asked the victim how old she was. When she mentioned having a friend overseas, Sablan allegedly told the victim he could take her to a cruise ship to visit the friend, but she had to do something for him first. The girl was allegedly repeatedly sexually assaulted during the three days she was held by Sablan, according to the office.
If convicted of both charges filed by the federal grand jury, Sablan may face life in prison.
The teen, who was a reported runaway missing person, was placed in the custody of the San Antonio Department of Children and Family Services.
The Long Beach chief of police, Wally Hebeish, praised the Good Samaritans who had called 911.
"I want to commend our community members for their vigilance and willingness to get involved by calling 9-1-1. This incident highlights the critical role community members play in keeping people safe," said Hebeish. "I would also like to acknowledge our officers for their swift response and actions which led to getting this victim to safety."
A similar incident unfolded in South Carolina last month. An alleged kidnapping victim was rescued after aduring a traffic stop in North Myrtle Beach.
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