Long Beach, CA – An observant laundromat employee helped rescue a 13-year-old girl who had been kidnapped in Texas earlier this month and driven to the west coast by her 61-year-old abductor, according to investigators.
The unidentified victim was allegedly kidnapped at gunpoint by 61-year-old Steven Robert Sablan as she was walking in San Antonio on July 6, WPVI reported.
According to court documents, Sablan pulled up alongside the girl in his gray Nissan Sentra, then pointed a gun at her and demanded that she get into the vehicle, KABC reported.
Sablan allegedly told her he would hurt her if she didn’t get into the car with him, according to WPVI.
Federal prosecutors said the suspect asked the victim how old she was as he drove away, at which point she told him she was 13, KABC reported.
According to investigators, the girl told Sablan she had a friend in Australia and he told her he would send her on a cruise ship to go visit her friend, but that she “had to do something for him first.”
Prosecutors said Sablan sexually assaulted the teen repeatedly and continued to do so as they traveled from Texas to Long Beach, California, KABC reported.
Touch Vong said she was at work at the Easy Wash Laundromat on 10th Street on July 9 when Sablan came in and asked her where a good place was to get a bite to eat nearby.
Vong told KABC she felt uneasy immediately.
“I feel it. I have goosebumps,” she said.
She quickly found a way to stall him while she figured out what to do, WPVI reported.
“They have restaurants here by the laundry but they never open on Sunday,” Vong explained, “but I don’t know why my mouth opened and told him, ‘Oh, maybe they open [at 11,] you can wait here.”
The victim, who was still sitting out in the car, used her time alone to scrawl out a “HELP ME” sign on a piece of crumpled-up paper, WPVI reported.
She showed it to people passing by, prompting at least one of them to call 911.
Officers said they arrived at the scene and spotted Sablan standing outside the car with the victim beside him, WPVI reported.
That’s when she mouthed the word “help” to them, according to the news outlet.
Investigators said they found a pair of handcuffs, a black BB gun, and the teen’s “HELP ME” note when they searched Sablan’s car, KABC reported.
Police rescued the kidnapped girl and arrested Sablan on charges of transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity and kidnapping, WPVI reported.
He was also wanted out of Fort Worth, Texas, on a burglary charge at the time of his apprehension.
Vong said she is thankful she trusted her gut and found a way to intervene, WPVI reported.
“I feel happy. I feel like God told me to stop him. That’s how she got rescued,” she said.
Long Beach Police Chief Wally Hebeish commended the community members “for their vigilance and willingness to get involved” when they realized something wasn’t right, KABC reported.
“This incident highlights the critical role community members play in keeping people safe,” Chief Hebeish said. “I would also like to acknowledge our officers for their swift response and actions which led to getting this victim to safety.”
Sablan faces a potential life sentence if he is convicted of the federal charges against him, KABC reported.