A girl who was kidnapped six years ago has been found after a shop owner recognised her from a Netflix true crime documentary series and phoned the police.
Kayla Unbehaun, then aged nine, was abducted by her non-custodial mother, Heather Unbehaun from South Elgin, Illinois in 2017, and was finally recognised in a shopping centre in Asheville, North Carolina last weekend.
Kayla’s father, Ryan Iskerka, went to Ms Unbehaun’s home on July 5, 2017 to pick Kayla up, but she had disappeared.
Kayla, now aged 15, was recognised by a shop owner who had seen an episode of the Netflix series Unsolved Mysteries about parental abductions, which featured her.
Ms Unbehaun only had visitation rights for her daughter at the time of the abduction. She has been charged with child abduction by the Kane County State’s Attorney in Illinois and is awaiting extradition from North Carolina, held on a bond of $250,000 (£200,200).
The ‘Abducted by a Parent’ episode of Unsolved Mysteries was released in November last year as part of the third series of the show, and Kayla appeared as part of a reel of missing children at the end of the programme. Photographs of the abducted children were placed alongside a photograph of the parent suspected of kidnapping them.
Mr Iskerka issued a statement after hearing of his daughter’s discovery via The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, an organisation which had issued several alerts about Kayla since her disappearance and had released age-progression photographs of her over the years.
‘Overjoyed Kayla is home safe’
He said: “I’m overjoyed that Kayla is home safe. I want to thank [the City of Elgin, Illinois Police and Fire Departments], the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and all of the law enforcement agencies who assisted with her case.
“We ask for privacy as we get to know each other again and navigate this new beginning.”
Mr Iskerka had reportedly written a tribute to Kayla on her 15th birthday in January, on a Facebook page called Bring Kayla Home, Fox News reported.
Mr Iskerka wrote: “I can’t wait for the day that I get to see you again, hoping each day I wake up will be the day. It could never come soon enough. I think of you every day hoping and praying that you are safe, happy and that you will come back into my life soon.”
Kayla is currently in protective custody.
Lieutenant Diana Loveland of Asheville Police Department told ABC: “It is unusual but it’s good that when someone does suspect that they recognise someone, no matter how old the story might be, that they are not afraid to give us a call so we can come and investigate.”
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