An Illinois girl who went missing six years ago has been found safe in North Carolina, according to a Facebook post from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
Kayla Unbehaun was 9 years old when police said her mother, Heather, abducted her in July 2017 from South Elgin, Illinois, about 45 miles northwest of Chicago.
A photo of Kayla as well as a photo of her mother were shown at the end of a 2022 episode of “Unsolved Mysteries” on Netflix. According to television station ABC Chicago, a store owner in North Carolina who had seen the show recognized the girl at an Asheville shopping center and called police.
Her mother was arrested Saturday in Asheville and charged with child abduction, a felony, before being released on bond, the South Elgin Police Department said in a news release.
The department said the now 15-year-old is in good condition and good spirits since being reunited with her family. The department is also helping the family get social services.
In a statement posted on the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children‘s Facebook page, Kayla’s father shared his thoughts about being reunited with his daughter.
“I’m overjoyed that Kayla is home safe. I want to thank the South Elgin Police Department, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and all of the law enforcement agencies who assisted with her case,” said her father, Ryan Iserka.
What happened the day Kayla went missing?
Back in 2017, the girl’s father went to pick her up from her mother’s house after a court-ordered visitation in Wheaton, Illinois, but the pair was nowhere to be found.
Her mother had packed up her car and left with Kayla, the Athens Banner-Herald reported at the time. Police heard they may have traveled to the Athens, Georgia area.
Police asked that anyone who saw them or the vehicle they were traveling in call authorities and on July 29, 2017, her mother was issued a felony warrant for kidnapping, the outlet reported.
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children said the girl’s mother had been inactive on social media since she went missing. Before the abduction, her mother expressed a desire to live off-the-grid and a live a more carefree lifestyle, the Athens Banner-Herald reported. She had also sold her car recently.
Kayla’s father said previously, Heather took their daughter to Athens without a visitation arrangement.
After a series of court visits, a judge ordered that the girl’s father be allowed to see her in Illinois during school breaks. Her mother, however, didn’t allow that to happen, citing medical reasons.
The girl’s father was awarded full custody in January 2017 and Kayla moved in with her father, his wife and her two children. The girl’s mother was allowed to have weekly visitations with the girl, ending in the abduction in July 2017, the Athens Banner-Herald reported.
While the girl was missing, including in 2020, authorities released age-progression photos of her and asked again for the public’s help locating her.
A glance at her father’s Facebook page shows that he never stopped posting about her and in January 2021, he posted a birthday tribute to his daughter.
“I love you forever and I hope you’re safe, happy and I’m always looking forward to seeing you again someday,” he wrote at the time, sharing a baby photo of his missing daughter.
“I pray for you every day and think about you all day long. My love for you has no limits or boundaries. You’re always unconditionally welcome in your home here with us and in my arms.”
In his most recent statement since she was found, her father asked for privacy and hinted at the pair having a long road ahead of them.
“We ask for privacy as we get to know each other again and navigate this new beginning,” he wrote.
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