For six years, loved ones—with the public’s help—searched for Kayla Unbehaun after she allegedly was abducted by her non-custodial mother in Illinois.
Now 15 years old, she has been found safe—over 600 miles away in North Carolina—and is now reunited with her father in Illinois, the Asheville Police Department’s Samantha Booth told CNN on Tuesday.
Kayla was 9 when she was abducted by her non-custodial mother, Heather Unbehaun, from the Chicago suburb South Elgin, Illinois, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children said.
Kayla’s father, Ryan Iserka, had won full custody of her in early 2017, with Unbehaun allowed supervised visits, he told CNN affiliate WBBM. But when Iserka went to pick up his daughter that July 5, he learned the pair never returned from a camping trip, WBBM reported the following year.
A felony warrant for kidnapping was issued for Unbehaun on July 28, 2017, according to the non-profit center, which helps families look for American children who are taken by relatives or strangers or run away. Nearly 360,000 reports of missing children were made to the FBI in 2022, it said, noting duplicates are possible.
Then Saturday evening, Kayla was spotted at a shop in Asheville by someone who recognized her from an episode of Netflix’s “Unsolved Mysteries” series about parental abductions, Booth told CNN. That person notified a store employee, who then called police, Booth said.
Unbehaun was arrested Saturday and was held on a $250,000 bond awaiting extradition, Buncombe County, North Carolina, Deputy Clerk Cory Alexander told CNN on Tuesday. Specific charges were not listed, and she has been given a July 11 court date, Alexander said.
She bonded out Tuesday morning and was released, Booth said.
Meanwhile, Iserka is overjoyed his daughter is home safe, he said in a statement through the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, thanking the organization and law enforcement agencies for spreading the word about the search for her.
“I also want to thank all of the followers on the ‘Bring Kayla Home’ Facebook page, who helped keep her story alive and were instrumental in spreading awareness,” he said. “We ask for privacy as we get to know each other again and navigate this new beginning.”
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