A 13-year-old Texas girl was kidnapped, driven across multiple state lines and then rescued after she held up a handmade “Help Me!” sign in a California parking lot, the authorities said.
Steven Robert Sablan, 61, of Cleburne, Texas, was indicted in California on Thursday and charged with one count of kidnapping and one count of transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, according to a news release from federal prosecutors.
The girl left home on July 6 without telling her parents because she had plans to visit a friend who moved to Australia a year earlier, prosecutors said.
She was walking to a bus stop in San Antonio when Mr. Sablan, whose name was spelled Sabalan in court records, pulled up in a gray Nissan Sentra, pointed a gun and told her, “If you don’t get in the car with me, I am going to hurt you,” according to court documents.
Fearing for her life, the victim obeyed him, court documents said.
At one point during the drive, the girl told Mr. Sablan about her friend in Australia. He said that he could take her to a cruise ship to get there but that she would have to do something for him, court documents said.
He then pulled over and sexually assaulted her. Over the next two days, he drove her from Texas through New Mexico, Arizona and California, sexually assaulting her at various points along the way, according to court records.
On the morning of July 9, they stopped at a laundromat in Long Beach, Calif.
Mr. Sablan told her to change clothes in the car and then took her clothes and went inside. This gave the girl the opportunity to write “Help Me!” on a piece of paper.
A passer-by called law enforcement, who upon arrival saw Mr. Sablan standing outside the vehicle and saw the girl, who mouthed the word “help.”
The Long Beach police described the girl in a statement as “visibly emotional and distressed.”
Officers searched the vehicle and found a BB gun, the girl’s sign, a switchblade and handcuffs, according to court documents.
They took Mr. Sablan into custody, and the authorities determined that the victim was a reported runaway missing person from San Antonio.
Mr. Sablan’s lawyer could not be reached for comment on Saturday. Mr. Sablan is scheduled to be arraigned on July 31 in the U.S. District Court in downtown Los Angeles.
Mr. Sablan was also wanted in connection with a burglary charge in Fort Worth, Texas. He was convicted of robbery with a deadly weapon in 1979, robbery and burglary with a deadly weapon in 1985, and possession of a controlled substance in 2016, prosecutors said.