Parents thank Texas community that mobilized to rescue kidnapped 8-year-old girl

The girl was snatched by a stranger in front of her mom in Fort Worth.

May 23, 2019, 3:38 PM

The parents of a Texas girl who was snatched in front of her mother and held for hours are thanking their community for mobilizing an all-out effort to bring the 8-year-old-girl home safely.

"We feel we owe a debt that can never be repaid," the grateful parents, Riz Sabatka and Rachel Sweet, said in a statement to citizens of Fort Worth who helped police find their daughter, Salem.

The parents released the written statement to ABC affiliate WFAA in Fort Worth on Wednesday, and said, "Salem has been surrounded by family and friends ever since she returned."

Salem Sabatka, 8, was kidnapped by a stranger near her home in Fort Worth, Texas, May 18, 2019.
Fort Worth Police

"Things will never be the way they were, but they will get better," the parents wrote.

On Saturday at around 6:30 p.m., Salem and her mother were out for a stroll in their neighborhood when a man abducted the little girl, dragging her into his car as Rachel Sweet screamed and tried to pull her daughter from the vehicle.

Video of the incident taken by a home surveillance camera showed the mother tumbling to the ground as the kidnapper drove off. Sweet can be heard screaming, "Help me, please! Someone call the police, my daughter just got kidnapped."

The broad-daylight abduction stunned the community of Fort Worth and the nation. As the hours ticked by, residents provided investigators with the key surveillance video of the brazen abduction and a description of the suspect car, a gray Ford Five Hundred.

Fort Worth police are searching for a vehicle that abducted an 8-year-old girl from her neighborhood on Saturday, May 18, 2019.
Fort Worth Police Department

Jeff King, a local church pastor who was acquainted with Salem's family but hadn't seen them in years, said he and another member of his church went searching for the girl, combing streets and parking lots for the vehicle linked to the girl's disappearance.

"I talked to a detective -- he was a plainclothes detective -- and he said to check parks, he said to check hotels," King said at a news conference in Fort Worth on Sunday.

King said he spotted the car in the parking lot of the second hotel he checked and alerted police. Just after 2 a.m., nearly eight hours after she was kidnapped, police stormed a room at the hotel and rescued Salem. They arrested the alleged child snatcher, 51-year-old Michael Webb.

Webb, who had no connection to Salem or to the family, has been charged with aggravated kidnapping, a first-degree felony. He is being held at the Tarrant County Jail on $100,000 bail.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price called King "a hero" and police praised other community residents for helping to find Salem.

In their statement, Salem's parents added, "To Jeff King, a man we haven't seen in 15 years, your name will forever be etched in our hearts."

The parents said they hope to personally thank everyone, from the police officers and FBI agents to community residents who were "involved in bringing Salem back home."

"We hope Fort Worth will get to know Salem over time and come to see the strong, articulate, intelligent 8-year-old they saved," the parents said.