A 13-year-old girl who police say was kidnapped at gunpoint earlier this month in Texas has been found in Long Beach.
Authorities say the girl was walking down the street near a bus stop in San Antonio, Texas, on July 6, when a man raised a black handgun to her and said, “If you don’t get in the car with me, I am going to hurt you.”
Fearing for her life, the girl obeyed the man, and got in the car, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
For the next two days, the man repeatedly sexually assaulted the girl as he drove them from San Antonio to Long Beach, authorities said.
On July 9, the man parked the car in a lot in Long Beach to take their clothes to a laundromat for washing, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
While the man was in the laundromat, the girl stayed in the car and wrote “help me” on a piece of paper in an effort to try and get someone’s attention, authorities said.
Someone witnessed the girl holding up the piece of paper and called police, who responded around 10:19 a.m. to the 100 block of East 10th Street.
When officers arrived, they saw the man standing outside the vehicle and the girl, “visibly emotional and distressed,” mouthing the word “help” from inside the car, authorities said.
The officers detained the man and searched his vehicle where they found a black BB gun, a “help me” sign, and a pair of handcuffs, according to the DA’s Office.
The man, who was identified as 61-year-old Steven Robert Sabalan, of Cleburne, Texas, was taken into custody on suspicion of kidnapping, lewd and lascivious acts with a child, and being fugitive from justice, police said.
He has since been charged with one count of kidnapping and one count of transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, according to the DA’s Office. If convicted of both charges, Sabalan would face a statutory maximum sentence of life in federal prison, according to the DA’s Office.
Authorities, meanwhile, identifed the girl as a runaway child who had been reported missing. Following Sabalan’s arrest, she was placed under the custody of the Department of Children and Family Services, police said.
The investigation remains ongoing, police said, adding that the FBI will be the lead agency for the case.
In a statement Wednesday, Long Beach’s chief of police praised the witnesses who called authorities after witnessing the child in the car.
“I want to commend our community members for their vigilance and willingness to get involved by calling 9-1-1,” Chief Wally Hebeish said. “This incident highlights the critical role community members play in keeping people safe.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with more information from authorities.