FORT WORTH, Texas —
Editor's note: WFAA made it a point to not show Salem Sabatka’s picture in previous stories about her kidnapping due to the nature of the crime and the fact that the victim is a minor. The only reason we are doing so now is because the family shared these photos with us to show that Salem is OK.
The family of Salem Sabatka says they "owe a debt that can never be repaid" to everyone who helped return their 8-year-old girl after she was kidnapped Saturday in Fort Worth.
Salem's parents, Riz Sabatka and Rachel Sweet, released a written statement Wednesday to WFAA. They thanked the Fort Worth community and law enforcement for "bringing Salem back home."
The family also shared photos of Salem to show she is doing well. One picture shows the girl in the hospital with two police officers. The other shows the girl wearing bunny ears Tuesday in a car.
"Things will never be the way they were, but they will get better," the family said in the written statement.
Salem and her mother were walking together around 6:30 p.m. in the Ryan Place neighborhood when a man grabbed the child and drove off with her.
Salem’s mother “fought ferociously” to get her back, but the man shoved Rachel Sabatka out of the car and he drove off with Salem, police said.
News of the kidnapping quickly spread in Fort Worth, and an old family friend -- Pastor Jeff King -- joined police in the search for the missing child.
Salem was found about eight hours later after King and a friend spotted the suspect's car parked at the WoodSpring Suites Fort Worth Hotel in Forest Hill.
"It was an overjoying experience," King said of the moment he heard Salem was safe.
Salem's family thanked King in their statement.
"And to Jeff King, a man we haven’t seen in 15 years, your name will forever be etched in our hearts," the family wrote in the statement.
The family said Salem "has been surrounded by family and friends ever since she returned."
"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," the statement read.
Police arrested 51-year old Michael Webb early Sunday morning after he was found with the girl at the hotel.
Webb faces a state charge of aggravated kidnapping, a first-degree felony, and he was transferred to federal custody Tuesday, where he faces a federal kidnapping charge.
Full statement from the family:
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.
Riz, Rachel and Salem
Other coverage of the kidnapping case: