Man pleads guilty to kidnapping girl who saved herself by waving ‘Help Me!’ sign at strangers


Images, inset via KABC (Los Angeles, Calif.)

Images, inset via KABC (Los Angeles, Calif.)

A Texas man pleaded guilty on Friday to kidnapping a girl who managed to save herself by waving a “Help me!” sign from the car as the defendant was at a laundromat.

Steven Robert Sablan, 62, faces 20 years to life in prison at a sentencing to take place Oct. 25, 2024, according to the U.S. Department of Justice in the Central District of California.

Authorities said the girl, a 13-year-old, was walking down a street in San Antonio, Texas, on July 6, 2023, when Sablan approached in his gray Nissan Sentra.

“If you don’t get in the car with me, I am going to hurt you,” Sablan said while raising a black handgun to his side. The girl, fearing for her life, obeyed, prosecutors said.

While driving with the victim, Sablan asked her how old she was, according to authorities. She told him. After she told Sablan that she had a friend in Australia, the defendant said he could take her to a cruise ship to visit her friend, but “she had to do something for him first,” according to a DOJ press release.

He then repeatedly sexually assaulted her, according to court documents, and continued to do so over the next two days as he drove the girl from Texas to California.

On the morning of July 9, Sablan parked the car in a lot in Long Beach, a port city located around 30 miles south of Los Angeles, and he took his and the victim’s clothes to a laundromat, authorities said.

According to federal investigators, that’s when the girl made the move that led to her rescue.

“While Sablan was in the laundromat, the victim stayed in the car and wrote ‘Help me!’ on a piece of paper to try and get someone’s attention,” the DOJ press release said. A witness called police, who found Sablan standing outside the car when they got to the scene.

The victim reportedly mouthed the word “help” from inside the car, according to court filings.

“During a search of the vehicle, officers retrieved a black BB gun, a ‘Help me’ sign, and a pair of handcuffs,” the original press release said.

Marisa Sarnoff contributed to this report.

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