FORT WORTH, Texas - Fort Worth police believe volunteers who were determined to find a kidnapped girl are the reason she is safe. She is back home with her family after a terrifying weekend ordeal.
It all started Saturday evening as 8-year-old Salem Sabatka was walking with her mother on 6th Street. Right now police say the abduction appears random.
The family released a statement where they expressed “our unending gratitude to the FWPD, the city of Fort Worth, and everyone who has supported the successful return of Salem to her parents."
Sources say Webb first “cat called” Salem’s mother as he drove by, then pulled up behind them and grabbed the girl. Salem’s mother fought to pull her from Webb’s vehicle, even managing to stomp on the brake pedal until Webb pushed her out of the car and took off with the girl.
Neighbors who witnessed the terrifying abduction and heard Salem’s mother screaming for help called 911. Police said people from the community took it upon themselves to help.
One neighbor said he’s grateful his doorbell camera played a small role in finding the kidnapped girl.
“It’s just so unbelievable. Everyone thinks it can’t happen in their city, town, neighborhood and this is indicative that it could happen anywhere and sometimes it will. There are bad guys everywhere,” Jim Sluck said.
Ultimately, police said it was two local church members who spotted the suspect’s car at the Wood Spring Suites in Forest Hill, just nine miles away. Sources say officers observed fresh blood on the passenger’s seat before entering Webb’s rooms and rescuing Salem who officers described as calm.
Salem was found safely inside a hotel room about eight hours after she was taken.
“I called a couple of our friends and we decided we were going to go out and look because I have these two guys right here and my wife and I can’t imagine anything like that. I would want as many people looking for my kids as possible,” said Jeff King, a neighbor who helped police find the little girl.
“We want to say to the family, they are in our prayers and in our thoughts. And, I’m so glad it turned out okay,” said Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price.
Police arrested 51-year-old Michael Webb and charged him with aggravated kidnapping.
Although the reason for the kidnapping is still unclear, police said Webb has an extensive criminal history dating back to 1995.
Last year he was arrested for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and sexual assault in Smith County, in East Texas. Prosecutors say they were forced to dismiss the charges in November because the accuser was not cooperating and left the state.
“I don't have any regrets. I felt like I had to do at the moment,” said Richard Vance, Smith County Asst. District Attorney. “I would be lying to say when I found out what he'd gone out and done something like this involving a child it made me sick.”
Webb was also arrested for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, resisting and evading arrest and disturbing the peace. Records show his last known address is in Tyler.
There are still questions about why an Amber Alert wasn’t sent out to cellphones in this case.
Fort Worth police said they tried to issue one but didn’t have the license plate number for the car they were looking for. The alert went out over social media but was not broadcast to cellphones and didn't appear on highway signs.
Mayor Price said she will be looking into what happened.
“The Amber program was developed years ago when there were not so many cellphones, nor door cameras or video surveillance. And I don’t know that they’ve updated their guidelines. Now that we have much better video and social media they probably need to visit that again,” she said.
According to the Texas Department of Public Safety’s website, a statewide Amber Alert is issued when there is a credible threat to a child’s safety and the child is under 13. The must be sufficient information to share with the public.
Salem’s name was listed on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children website until she was found.