When a Mom Couldn't Save Her 8-Year-Old From a Brazen Kidnapper, Their Community Stepped In

Photograph of 8-year-old Salem Sabatka
CBS This Morning/YouTube

We hear about terrifying kidnapping stories all the time; and sadly, most of them end in tragedy -- when a tip leads police to a body, or worse, when a lack of evidence leads them nowhere, with no closure for the family. But luckily, a family from Forth Worth, Texas, is breathing easier today after an 8-year-old who was kidnapped while walking beside her mom was found safe -- and it was all thanks to the neighbors in her own community.

  • Salem Sabatka, 8, was taking an afternoon walk with her mom on Saturday, May 18, when out of nowhere, a car pulled up and a man grabbed her.

    According to CBS News, the mother was thrown to the ground as Salem was taken, after she had climbed into the backseat of the car in an attempt to save her daughter. The car, which was allegedly being driven by 51-year-old Michael Webb, sped away with Salem, but not before the mother managed to rip a piece of jewelry from the man.

    It's hard to imagine what Salem's mother was experiencing in those harrowing moments after her daughter disappeared, as shock, confusion, and anguish likely washed over her. 

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  • "Help me, help me please!" Salem's mother yelled. "My daughter just got kidnapped!"

    Those terrifying cries were caught on video, along with the moment a car slowed down just seconds before, and pulled little Salem inside.

    Police were called just seconds later, and issued a statewide Amber Alert for the child. But it would be video from a neighbor's doorbell camera that proved to be the most helpful piece of evidence.

  • After reviewing the video, police were able to identify car model involved in Salem's kidnapping, and released the information to the public.

    One of the first community members to see it was Jeff King, a local pastor in Fort Worth who also happens to know Salem's parents. 

    Immediately, he sprang to action. And thank goodness he did.

    "I talked to a detective," King told ABC News. "He said to check parks. He said to check hotels."

  • So that's exactly what he and a fellow church member did. And sure enough, the search led them to a nearby motel, where they spotted Webb's car.

    At 2:30 a.m., police rushed into the room Webb had rented, and found him inside with Salem. Based on initial reports, she was safe and unharmed; but likely traumatized by the day's events.

    "We got her, we got her. We have her," the officers can be heard saying in an audio recording of the moment Salem was found.

  • All told, Salem was missing for a total of eight hours, though it must have felt like an eternity for her parents.

    According to the Polly Klaas Foundation, 99.8% of children who go missing each year do come home. Most who are thought to be missing are luckily found, because there's been some miscommunication between parents as to where their child should be that day. 

    But 9 percent of missing children are kidnapped by someone they know, as the result of a custody battle. And just 3 percent are taken the way Salem was, by a stranger. Many of those cases involve a crime of some sort, or tragically, a sexual assault.

    "Only about 100 children (a fraction of 1%) are kidnapped each year in the stereotypical stranger abductions you hear about in the news," the foundation reports. And about half of the children in those cases do come home; which might offer some solace to parents reading this right now and wondering how on earth they can keep their kids safe in this world.

  • Still, the recovery of the missing 8-year-old was no small feat; and now, the local community is praising the heroes who helped make it happen.

    "I feel like God allowed me to be a tool and that's it," King told the outlet.

    Others are calling out the strong community spirit that drives most of its residents.

    "This is a very tight-knit community," neighbor Tim Keith told CBS News. "When anything comes up in this neighborhood that's out of the ordinary, you see the citizens of this neighborhood band together very quickly."

    Keith led a community walk in celebration, shortly after Salem was found safe. 

  • Webb has since been charged with aggravated kidnapping. But this isn't his only brush with the law.

    According to CBS News, Webb was charged with sexual and aggravated assault last year, but the case was thrown out after the victim reportedly became uncooperative.

    Now, he's due to before a court once more this week; though it's clear he won't get off so easy this time.

  • Police are also using the moment to remind people just how helpful surveillance video can be in cases like this.

    If you have a Ring doorbell, authorities are urging the public to register it through the Neighbors App, a new community watch feature that the product's website says was put in place to create safer neighborhoods.

    So far at least, it seems to be working.