May 31, 2023

A kidnapped girl was missing for six years — until an eagle-eyed associate spotted her in North Carolina, more than 600 miles from her last known location, officials said.

Kayla Unbehaun was 9 years old when she went camping in 2017 and hasn’t returned, family members told her father, Ryan Iskerka, according to WBBM-TV.

Police in South Elgin, Illinois, thought the girl’s mother had taken her, even though she had no custody, WLS-TV reported.

Six years later, on May 13, a person working in a shopping plaza in the North Carolina mountains caught a glimpse of Kayla. The charwoman had recognized her from “well-publicized media,” and officers later confirmed she was the missing girl, Asheville police told McClatchy News in an email.

Then came an emotional reunion.

“I’m thrilled that Kayla is home safe,” her father told the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, adding that he was grateful to those who helped find her.

“I would also like to thank all the followers on the ‘Bring Kayla Home’ Facebook page, who have helped keep her story alive and played a major role in spreading awareness,” he wrote. “We ask for privacy as we get to know each other again and navigate this new beginning.”

Kayla, who is now 15, went missing over the 4th of July weekend in 2017. In the years since she was last seen in South Elgin, the case was featured on the Netflix show ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ and became a age progression photo taken. released to show what she would look like as a teenager.

Meanwhile, Kayla’s father said he hoped his daughter would come home.

“Everyone loves her in our family,” he said in a video the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children shared on Facebook in 2019. “Everyone wants to see her and spend time with her. I don’t want to take her mother away from her. I want her to grow up happy and have a life with everyone who loves her.”

According to WSL-TV and the Asheville Police Department, Kayla’s mother, who is facing child abduction charges, has been arrested and taken to jail on a fugitive warrant. Officers in North Carolina and Illinois did not immediately share additional information about her case with McClatchy News on May 16.

South Elgin, Illinois, is about 40 miles west of Chicago.

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