13-year-old girl kidnapped at gunpoint in Texas rescued in Long Beach thanks to 'help me' sign

The teen's alleged kidnapper repeatedly sexually assaulted her while driving her to Long Beach, according to federal prosecutors.

Shayla Girardin Image
Friday, July 21, 2023
13-year-old girl used 'help me' sign to escape kidnapper in Long Beach
A 13-year-girl who was kidnapped in Texas and driven to Long Beach was able to make a "help me" sign on a crumbled piece of paper - and it ended up saving her life.

LONG BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- A man who allegedly kidnapped a 13-year-old girl at gunpoint in Texas, then repeatedly sexually assaulted her while driving her to Long Beach where she was rescued by waving a "help me'' note to passersby, was indicted Thursday on a pair of federal charges.

Steven Robert Sablan, 61, of Cleburne, Texas, was charged in the indictment with one count each of kidnapping and transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. He is scheduled to be arraigned in downtown Los Angeles on Monday, July 31.

According to federal prosecutors, the girl was walking in San Antonio on July 6 when Sablan pulled alongside her in a gray Nissan Sentra, pointed a gun at her and ordered her into the car. He drove away with the girl and allegedly asked how old she was, and she told him she was 13, prosecutors said.

The girl also told him she had a friend in Australia, and Sablan allegedly told her that he could take her to a cruise ship so she could visit the friend, "but she had to do something for him first,'' prosecutors said.

Sablan allegedly repeatedly sexually assaulted the girl and began driving her to California, sexually assaulting her at least two more times along the way, according to prosecutors.

On July 9, Sablan parked the car in Long Beach and went into the Easy Wash Laundromat on 10th Street to wash their clothes, prosecutors said.

Touch Vong, one of the laundromat's employees, told Eyewitness News she will never forget that morning.

"I feel it. I have goosebumps," she said.

She said she came into work that morning when Sablan walked in and asked her where he could grab some food.

"They have restaurants here by the laundry but they never open on Sunday, but I don't know why my mouth opened and told him, 'Oh, maybe they open [at 11,] you can wait here,'" said Vong.

She said she immediately sensed something was wrong.

"Something [was] wrong with his eyes ... scared when he looked at me," said Vong, who recalled seeing fear in the girl's face.

While Sablan was away, the girl -- still in the car -- wrote "Help Me'' on a note and showed it to people passing by, prompting one of them to call police.

Responding officers found the girl, and she mouthed the word "help'' to them, according to prosecutors.

"I feel happy," said Vong. "I feel like God told me to stop him. That's how she got rescued."

Long Beach police located and arrested Sablan.

"I want to commend our community members for their vigilance and willingness to get involved by calling 911,'' Long Beach police Chief Wally Hebeish said in a statement. "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.''

Officers searching the suspect's car found the girl's "Help Me'' note, as well as a black BB gun and a pair of handcuffs, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. Prosecutors said the girl had been reported as a runaway in San Antonio.

Sablan could face life in federal prison if convicted as charged, prosecutors said.

City News Service, Inc. contributed to this report.