Texas man pleads guilty to kidnapping teen found in California with a “Help Me!” note

sticky note with 'help me' written in text in front of a cork board background

Federal prosecutors said that a Texas man has pleaded guilty to kidnapping a 13-year-old girl at gunpoint from a San Antonio stree, who was later rescued in Southern California when a passerby saw her hold up a “Help Me!” sign in a parked car. The girl was rescued July 9 in Long Beach, south of Los Angeles, after a passerby called 911 to report seeing her hold up the piece of paper with the handwritten plea for help.

An FBI agent wrote in an affidavit supporting the criminal complaint that the girl was walking down a street in San Antonio on July 6 when the suspect, Steven Robert Sablan, 62, drove up with a black handgun and told her, “If you don’t get in the car with me, I am going to hurt you.” Sablan had no legal custody or familial relationship to the teenage girl, authorities said. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Central District of California said Sablan, of Cleburne, Texas, admitted in a plea agreement that he sexually assaulted the victim multiple times while driving her 1,300-miles from Texas to California.

On July 9, Sablan parked at a laundromat in Long Beach to wash clothes. The girl was left in the car and scribbled the note with the words “Help me!” flashing the sign in the window. Prosecutors said a “good Samaritan” dialed 911, alerting Long Beach police to the location.

Sablan, who has been in federal custody since July 2023, pleaded guilty to one count of kidnapping, prosecutors said. Upon Sablan’s arrest in California, police said they recovered a plastic BB handgun, handcuffs and a knife. In July, Sablan was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of kidnapping and transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity. Authorities determined Sablan had an outstanding warrant for his arrest related to a burglary charge in Fort Worth, and he had twice been convicted of robbery with a deadly weapon and possession of a controlled substance.

Sablan is being held in a federal detention center in Los Angeles; he faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison and up to life in prison. A sentencing hearing is set for Oct. 25.

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