Kidnapped teenage girl rescued over a thousand miles away after making handwritten sign
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Warning: Contains reference to sexual assault
A 13-year-old girl who had been kidnapped was rescued more than a thousand miles away from her home thanks to a handwritten sign she made while being held captive.
The teenager, who has not been named, was kidnapped on 6 July from San Antonio, Texas, when suspect Steven Robert Sabalan allegedly approached her in his car and demanded she get in.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, the suspect held the teen at gunpoint, saying: "If you don’t get in the car with me, I am going to hurt you."
Scared for her life, the girl got into her car and was driven more than 19 hours from Texas to California. The journey took two days, during which time Sabalan allegedly sexually assaulted the teenager on numerous occasions.
Federal prosecutors have claimed Sabalan went to a laundrette on 9 July, and while he was inside the girl wrote 'Help me!' on a piece of paper and held it up to the car window.
Thankfully, a witness in the area spotted the sign and called the police, resulting in the girl's rescue.
In a statement, Long Beach Police Department said police were called to the scene regarding an 'unknown trouble call'.
Once there, they found the 13-year-old who was 'visibly emotional and distressed'.
"Through their investigation, officers learned the Good Samaritans were in a parking lot when they saw the victim in a parked vehicle holding up a piece of paper with “help me” written on it. They acknowledged the note and immediately called 9-1-1," the statement said.
A release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California claimed officers retrieved 'a black BB gun, a “Help me” sign, and a pair of handcuffs' from the vehicle during a search.
Sabalan, from Cleburne, Texas, was arrested on 9 July and booked into the Long Beach City Jail on charges of kidnapping, lewd and lascivious acts with a child, and fugitive from justice.
On 20 July he was indicted by a federal grand jury on one count of kidnapping and one count of transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity.
Long Beach Police Chief Wally Hebeish expressed his thanks to the local community for helping in the rescue of the girl.
In a statement, he commented: “This incident highlights the critical role community members play in keeping people safe. I would also like to acknowledge our officers for their swift response and actions which led to getting this victim to safety.”
After being rescued, the teen was placed in the care of the Department of Children and Family Services before being reunited with her family.
If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article and wish to speak to someone in confidence, contact RAINN via its helpline on 800 656 HOPE (4673) or its online chat, available 24/7 seven days a week.
If you’ve been affected by any of these issues and want to speak to someone in confidence regarding the welfare of a child, contact the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000, 8am–10pm Monday to Friday, 9am–6pm weekends. If you are a child seeking advice and support, call Childline for free on 0800 1111.