The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) confirmed Monday that Kayla Unbehaun, now 15, was found safe in North Carolina. Kayla was nine years old when she went missing in 2017, after her mother, who did not have custody of the girl, allegedly abducted her and the pair disappeared.
A store owner spotted Kayla over the weekend in a shopping centre in Asheville, N.C., reports WLOS-TV. Apparently, they recognized the girl and her mother, Heather Unbehaun, after seeing their case featured on a 2022 episode of Netflix’s reboot of Unsolved Mysteries.
Kayla was reported missing on July 5, 2017, when her father went to pick her up from an address in Wheaton, Ill., only to learn that the mother had left with Kayla the previous day, reports NBC Chicago. The pair had not returned from a planned 4th of July camping trip.
In the following weeks, the local State Attorney’s office issued a kidnapping warrant for Heather Unbehaun.
For years, the NCMEC and a Facebook page called “Bring Kayla Home” have been raising awareness about her, sharing age-progressed photos.
Heather, 40, was taken into custody and expected to be extradited to northern Illinois, reports CBS News. She is being held on a US$250,000 bond.
Kayla’s father, Ryan Iskerka, issued a statement through the NCMEC sharing his relief.
“I’m overjoyed that Kayla is home safe,” the statement read, with Iskerka thanking local police, law enforcement, concerned citizens and the NCMEC for sharing Kayla’s story.
“We ask for privacy as we get to know each other again and navigate this new beginning,” he concluded.