LONG BEACH, Calif. –
A 13-year-old girl kidnapped in Texas and sexually assaulted was rescued in Southern California when bystanders saw her holding a “help me” sign in a parked car, police and federal authorities said.
The rescue occurred on July 9 in Long Beach, south of Los Angeles, when officers responded to a trouble call and found the “girl visibly emotional and distraught,” police said in a news release Thursday.
“Through their investigation, officers learned that the Good Samaritans were in a parking lot when they saw the victim in a parked vehicle holding a piece of paper with the word ‘help me’ written on it. They acknowledged the note and immediately called 9-1-1,” police said.
Steven Robert Sablan, 61, of Cleburne, Texas, was arrested and indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury on charges of kidnapping and transporting a minor with the intent to engage in 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 known if he had an attorney.
The girl was walking down a street in San Antonio, Texas, on July 6 when Sablan arrived, raised a black handgun and told her, “If you don’t get in the car with me, I’m going to hurt you,” an FBI agent wrote in an affidavit supporting the criminal complaint.
According to the account, the girl had left home without telling her parents because she was trying to visit a school friend who had moved to Australia a year earlier but kept in touch through an internet chat room.
At some point after getting into Sablan’s car, the girl told her about her friend and Sablan said he could take her on a cruise to Australia, but she would have to do something for him, the affidavit says.
The suspect stopped the car and sexually assaulted the girl, who told him to stop but feared she would be hurt if he did not comply, the officer wrote.
Sablan sexually assaulted the girl several more times on the trip from San Antonio through New Mexico and Arizona to California, according to the affidavit. Meanwhile, the girl’s mother reported her missing to San Antonio authorities on July 7.
In Long Beach, the suspect parked at a laundromat and told the girl to change her clothes, then took her and his clothes inside, creating the opportunity for the girl to write “help me” on a piece of paper, according to the document.
When Long Beach police officers arrived, Sablan was standing outside the car and observed the girl utter the word “help,” the officer wrote.
During the arrest, officers found a pair of silver handcuffs in Sablan’s back pocket and wanted him for robbery in Fort Worth. A search of the vehicle turned up a black plastic BB gun, the “help me” sign, a switchblade knife and black handcuffs in a package labeled “Fetish Fantasy Series Designer Handcuffs,” according to the document.
The affidavit says Sablan was convicted of robbery with a deadly weapon in 1979, robbery with a deadly weapon and burglary in 1985 and possession of a controlled substance in 2016.
The girl was taken into the custody of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services.