Updated: Thursday, 2:34 p.m.
The story of a kidnapped 8-year-old girl in Texas had a happy ending this weekend, but critical questions remain about the circumstances of the kidnapping and dramatic rescue.
As CrimeOnline previously reported, Fort Worth police announced on Sunday that Salem Sabatka had been found with her accused kidnapper in a hotel room at WoodSpring Suites in Forest Hill, just hours after the suspect, Michael Webb, allegedly grabbed the girl into his car as she was on a walk with her mother in the Ryan Place neighborhood. Authorities reportedly said Salem appeared calm and uninjured, and she has since been reunited with her family.
A neighbor’s surveillance camera captured video of the suspect’s car, along with the girl’s mother — identified in local media reports as Rachel Sweet — running from the car and screaming for help. According to the Fort Worth Star Telegram, local police said Salem’s mother put up a “valiant fight” to stop the suspect before he sped off with her daughter.
It was reportedly around 2 a.m. Sunday when Fort Worth Police rescued the 8-year-old girl at the hotel, after two Good Samaritans who had volunteered to join the search spotted a car matching the description of the suspect’s vehicle in the hotel parking lot. CrimeOnline has reached out to one of those men, reportedly a local pastor, for comment, but he did not immediately respond to our request.
As CrimeOnline previously reported, the Forest Hill Police Department released a statement earlier this week revealing that officers had spoken with Webb at the hotel about two hours before Salem was rescued, reportedly following up on a tip that a hotel customer had spotted a man with a little girl. According to the statement, the officers eventually searched his hotel room but find no sign of Salem.
Reached by phone, a spokesperson for the Forest Hill Police department declined to answer questions about the timeline of the kidnapping and rescue, saying that the department’s legal team had instructed police not to comment further on the investigation at this time. Staff at the WoodSpring Suites hotel also declined to comment.
According to WFAA, the Forest Hill police cancelled a previously scheduled press conference about Salem’s case on Tuesday afternoon just before it was scheduled to begin. The decision was reportedly a result of a legal advisory, citing the ongoing investigation.
NBC Dallas Fort Worth reports that Webb, 51, was transferred from Forth Worth police to FBI custody on Tuesday. According to earlier reports, Webb was being held in lieu of $100,000 bond in Forth Worth before the FBI transfer.
“You can assure the public that Mr. Webb has not bonded out of jail or been released,” an FBI spokesperson told the news station.
And on Monday, just a day after leading a jubilant press conference announcing Salem’s rescue, Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald told WFAA that he had been fired.
City Manager David Cooke confirmed the firing but did not give a specific reason for it.
“I don’t know if I could tell you the biggest issue,” Cooke told WFAA. “I think over time it’s a series of items.”
A GoFundMe campaign was established on May 19 to raise money for Salem’s family as she recovers from the traumatic ordeal. It has raised over $19,000 and is no longer accepting donations.
Shortly after CrimeOnline contacted a man who shared the GoFundMe campaign on his Facebook page, indicating he knew Salem’s family, his Facebook profile became inaccessible. Prior to that, he had shared an update to a post about the campaign, saying that the family had ended the campaign following a generous outpouring of support.
CrimeOnline has located an additional GoFundMe fundraising page connected to a woman who appears to be Salem’s mother. The fundraiser was launched in 2018 and asks for financial help in launching a new business.
CrimeOnline attempted to reach Salem’s mother via a phone number listed in online public records, but a woman who answered the phone — who asked to be identified only by her first name of Kim — said that the phone number is hers and has been for about five years.
Kim, who said she works in healthcare in the Fort Worth area, said that she has repeatedly gotten calls and text messages searching for Ms. Sweet and Salem Sabatka over the years, including from doctor’s offices and relatives.
This is a developing story. CrimeOnline will provide further updates when more information is available.
Additional reporting by Leigh Egan.
An earlier version of this story reported that a man believed to be Salem’s father had shared social media posts about her kidnapping and rescue. Subsequent posts indicate the man, who has not responded to our request for comment, is a relative but not Salem’s father.