A now-teenage girl who has been missing for the last six years has been reunited with her father after an unlikely discovery.
Back in 2017, Kayla Unbehaun — who was then only 9 years old — was abducted during a camping trip near her home in South Elgin, Illinois. Authorities suspected she was abducted by her mother, Heather Unbehaun (pictured above, in her mugshot), amid a child custody battle. However, they couldn’t locate either Kayla or Heather — for years. Despite considerable legwork by the Elgin PD and other law enforcement agencies, Kayla and Heather seemingly vanished.
Then, last November, Kayla’s story was pushed forth as a featured part of Netflix‘s reboot of Unsolved Mysteries. The content service produced a segment on Kayla, her abduction, and her mother’s possible whereabouts. That first streamed late last year and has been racking up views on the streaming giant ever since. But still, no progress was made in the case.
Until this week!!! Over the weekend, Kayla and Heather were tracked down to a store in Asheville, North Carolina. The duo were shopping in a Plato’s Closet boutique in the western NC mountain town when the store owner recognized the girl from the Netflix series. The store owner thought quickly enough to call the cops and describe the situation. Police descended quickly, and a positive identification of the girl — who is now 15 years old — was confirmed.
At the scene, per WGN, Heather Unbehaun was arrested on child abduction charges. She was later released on bond from the Buncombe County Jail, per WLOS. Per People, as of Wednesday morning, it’s still unclear if she has yet entered a plea or hired an attorney.
Kayla’s story goes back to July of 2017. That month, Heather took her on a camping trip. The two were supposed to come back to a scheduled drop-off with Kayla’s father, Ryan Iserka, but they never returned. Heather did not have custodial rights to Kayla at the time, and Ryan was terrified that she’d kidnapped the girl. Iserka immediately called the police about the apparent abduction, but cops were unable to locate the girl.
But now, the quick thinking of that store owner is leading to a reunion for Ryan and his beloved daughter. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children confirmed the event in a Twitter post on Tuesday night, writing:
“NCMEC is excited to share that Kayla Unbehaun has been FOUND SAFE in North Carolina! Kayla was only 9 years old when she was abducted by her non-custodial mother, Heather Unbehaun from South Elgin, Illinois on July 5, 2017.”
The tweet also contained a statement attributed to Iserka:
“I’m overjoyed that Kayla is home safe. I want to thank @ElginPDFD, 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.”
BREAKING NEWS ‼️
NCMEC is excited to share that Kayla Unbehaun has been FOUND SAFE in North Carolina!
Kayla was only 9 years old when she was abducted by her non-custodial mother, Heather Unbehaun from South Elgin, Illinois on July 5, 2017. Kayla’s dad, Ryan asked NCMEC to… pic.twitter.com/5O7bpEjIhT
— National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (@MissingKids) May 16, 2023
Immediately after the Plato’s Closet event, per NBC News, Kayla was placed in the care of the North Carolina Division of Social Services. She will be reunited with Iserka and other family members in Illinois “soon,” according to the outlet.
We are sad for all the years lost, but we are SO happy she will be going home!!
If you have sincere cause to suspect child abuse, call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child or 1-800-422-4453, or go to www.childhelp.org.