SOUTH ELGIN, Ill. (WGN) — An Illinois girl who was abducted at 9 years old has been found safe in North Carolina six years later, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
North Carolina’s Asheville Police Department said Tuesday that officers responded to a business in Asheville on Saturday after receiving a report from an employee who had recognized Kayla Unbehaun as the missing child “from well-publicized media.”
Kayla was allegedly taken by her mother, Heather Unbehaun, on July 5, 2017, during a camping trip in South Elgin, Illinois. After going on the trip with her daughter, the two dropped out of sight.
Ryan Iserka, Kayla’s father, was supposed to pick up his daughter from her mother’s Wheaton, Illinois, home, but neither turned up. Unbehaun did not have custody rights of Kayla.
According to previous reporting by WGN, the NCMEC had said in a press release that prior to disappearing, Unbehaun had indicated she wanted to live off-the-grid and have a more “carefree” lifestyle. For a while, police thought she may have taken Kayla to Georgia.
A year after Kayla disappeared, her father enlisted the public’s help, saying he wanted his daughter home so “she can grow up and have a life with everyone who loves her.”
Unbehaun, 40, was arrested after Kayla was found Saturday in Buncombe County, North Carolina, and reunited with her father. Unbehaun faces child abduction charges out of Kane County, Illinois, and is set to be extradited to the state.
Police said she was being held on a $250,000 secured bond for a fugitive warrant.
Iserka issued the following statement through the NCMEC:
“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.”
Kayla’s story was previously featured on social media by NCMEC.
She is now 15.