A Tyler man is in custody in Fort Worth for kidnapping an 8-year-old girl.
Michael Webb, 51, has been charged with aggravated kidnapping.
He is accused of snatching 8-year-old Salem Sabatka from a street in Fort Worth Saturday evening.
Webb, who is identified as being from Tyler, has a lengthy criminal history in Smith County and Gregg County. Also known as “Thin Man,” his past charges include aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, sexual assault, evading and resisting arrest, disturbing the peace and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.
The girl was walking with her mother along 6th Avenue in Fort Worth Saturday evening after 6 p.m. Webb reportedly drove up to the mother and daughter and grabbed the girl, pulling her into his car. The mother charged into the vehicle after her daughter, but was thrown from the car.
According to FWPD spokesman Officer Buddy Calzada, the mother “immediately started running to people to call the police.”
Fort Worth police held a live press conference at the scene of Salem’s kidnapping and asked for the public’s help in finding the girl. Photos and video of the suspect’s vehicle, caught on local doorbell video cameras, were released on social media to the public.
And, according to Calzada, the public responded in a big way.
Community members took the photos and began searching. Ultimately, Calzada said, it was “two local church members” who spotted the suspect’s vehicle and called police.
Fort Worth officers responded to the scene at Wood Springs Suites hotel in Forest Hill early Sunday morning. They broke down a door and found Salem safe.
The little girl was taken to a local hospital to be checked out, but Calzada said she appeared to be physically unharmed.
Multiple law enforcement agencies had assisted FWPD in the search, including the Texas Department of Public Safety, Arlington police, the FBI and Homeland Security.
But, said Calzada, credit for the happy ending to a potentially tragic story belongs to the Fort Worth community.
“We asked community members to look for the vehicle, and that’s exactly what happened,” he said at a press conference after Salem was found. “Two local church members went out, saw the vehicle, called it in, called Fort Worth Police Department.”
He expressed the FWPD’s deep gratitude for that activity and vigilance.
“We do want to thank our followers,” he said. “This comes from the heart of the Fort Worth Police Department. We’re a good PD, we work hard. But with you on our side, we’re able to be more effective. You guys were a huge asset to helping Salem be found safe.”
Calzada said it was “citizens who went out of their way and helped not just the PD, but a family get some good closure” to Salem’s kidnapping.
“It’s taken several hours,” Calzada said, “but it’s taken a whole community to make this happen.”