Man Was Caught Kidnapping Girl, 13, After She Held Up Sign Saying 'Help Me' From Backseat of Car

The girl also mouthed the words “help me” to passersby while the suspect was inside a laundromat

<p>U.S. Department of Justice via AP</p> The

U.S. Department of Justice via AP

The 'Help Me!' sign the 13-year-old girl held up

A Texas man has pleaded guilty to kidnapping a 13-year-old girl who was rescued after she held up a “Help Me” sign while in the back of his car.

Steven Robert Sablan, 62, pleaded guilty on Friday, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California.

Per the statement, Sablan admitted to kidnapping the girl at gunpoint in San Antonio last July and driving her nearly 1,400 miles to California. Sablan also admitted he threatened the girl with a firearm and “sexually assaulted her multiple times before his arrest in Long Beach.”

“At the time of the crime, Sablan had no legal custody or familial relationship to the victim,” the statement continued.

The 13-year-old was rescued on July 9, three days into her ordeal, after a passerby saw her sign in a parked car.

<p>Long Beach Police Department</p> Steven Robert Sablan pleaded guilty to the July 2023 kidnapping on Friday

Long Beach Police Department

Steven Robert Sablan pleaded guilty to the July 2023 kidnapping on Friday

“Good Samaritans were in a parking lot when they saw the victim in a parked vehicle holding up a piece of paper with ‘help me’ written on it,” a July 2023 press release from the Long Beach Police Department read. “They acknowledged the note and immediately called 9-1-1.”

According to police, the girl also mouthed the words “help me” to passersby while Sabalan was inside a laundromat. She later revealed the suspect told her that he was going to “hurt” her if she didn’t do what he said.

Soon after kidnapping her, Sabalan allegedly asked the victim how old she was and she replied that she was 13 years old. She then later mentioned that she had a friend in Australia and he allegedly told the victim he could take her to a cruise ship to visit the friend, “but she had to do something for him first,” according to a July 2023 statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Sign up for PEOPLE's free True Crime newsletter for breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases. 

Authorities said that once they detained Sabalan, they found a “replica firearm, which resembled a semi-automatic pistol,” that the suspect had used to intimidate the victim after initially approaching her at a bus stop in San Antonio.

“I want to commend our community members for their vigilance and willingness to get involved by calling 9-1-1. This incident highlights the critical role community members play in keeping people safe,” Long Beach Chief of Police Wally Hebeish said in the press release. “I would also like to acknowledge our officers for their swift response and actions which led to getting this victim to safety.”

Sablan’s sentencing hearing has been scheduled for Oct. 25, “at which time Sablan will face a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in federal prison and a statutory maximum sentence of life imprisonment,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office stated.

For more People news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!

Read the original article on People.