‘We owe a debt that can never be repaid.’ Family of kidnapped girl thanks Fort Worth.

Fort Worth residents celebrate safe return of 8-year-old kidnapped

Fort Worth residents celebrated the safe return of Salem Sabatka, an 8-year-old who was kidnapped Saturday, May 18, 2019.
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Fort Worth residents celebrated the safe return of Salem Sabatka, an 8-year-old who was kidnapped Saturday, May 18, 2019.

Heroes were everywhere in Fort Worth on Saturday night.

They were the teachers, friends and strangers who drove around Ryan Place and Fairmount. They were the uniformed police officers who worked diligently to gather information. They were the two men who drove to a hotel near Forest Hill and spotted the car at the center of a search for a kidnapper.

Now, the family of the 8-year-old girl who was taken from her mother as they walked that evening wants to thank those heroes for bringing her home safe.

In a statement to Star-Telegram media partner WFAA-TV, parents Rachel Sweet and Riz Sabatka said, “We would like to begin by thanking the Fort Worth Police Department, the FBI, and the numerous other law enforcement agencies involved in bringing Salem back home.

“The biggest thank you goes to the people of Fort Worth and surrounding areas that made her return possible. We feel we owe a debt that can never be repaid. We do hope one day to personally thank as many of those involved as possible. We hope Fort Worth will get to know Salem over time and come to see the strong, articulate, intelligent 8-year-old girl they saved.

“Things will never be the way they were, but they will get better. Salem has been surrounded by family and friends ever since she returned. As time goes by, she will be making more and more friends in this amazing city.

“And to Jeff King, a man we haven’t seen in 15 years, your name will forever be etched in our hearts.”

King, a high school classmate of Riz Sabatka, was one of two men who alerted police to suspect Michael Webb’s car at the hotel where he took Salem. Police arrested the 51-year-old man there.

The community has continued to gather around the Sabatka-Sweet family since the incident.

On Sunday, hundreds gathered in the neighborhood to walk for Salem in order to show their support.

Online, nearly $20,000 has been raised for the family since May 19 on GoFundMe. The GoFundMe can be found here.

“These funds will go directly to Rizal Sabatka, the parent of Salem, so they may take time to be with her from work and cover services they may need in this time of recovery,” the GoFundMe creator, Shannon Worthington, wrote. “ ... Although she was found, traumatic events like these call for healing and recovery. This family is wonderful and loving and all funds will no doubt be put to good use.”

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Nichole Manna is an investigative reporter for the Star-Telegram. Before moving to Fort Worth in July 2018, she covered crime and breaking news in Tennessee, North Carolina, Nebraska and Kansas. She is a 2012 graduate of Middle Tennessee State University and grew up in Florida.