Kayla Unbehaun found in North Carolina 6 years after abduction, recognized from 'Unsolved Mysteries'

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Thursday, May 18, 2023
Kayla Unbehaun found in Asheville 6 years after Illinois abduction
A girl who was abducted six years ago in Illinois by her non-custodial mother has been found safe in North Carolina.

ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- A girl who was abducted six years ago in Illinois by her non-custodial mother has been found safe in North Carolina.

Kayla Unbehaun was spotted on Saturday in Asheville. Police said a retail worker recognized Kayla from an episode of Netflix's "Unsolved Mysteries" series.

Unbehaun was 9 years old when she was abducted. She's was found safe thanks to a remarkable set of circumstances.

According to police in South Elgin, Illinois, Unbehaun was last seen on July 4, 2017.

Her father, Ryan Iserka, was granted full custody of her, but when he went to pick her up from her mother's house she wasn't there.

For six years, Unbehaun and her mother remained missing.

"What's most unusual is the ability to stay off the grid, if you will, for that period of time," Asheville Police Lieutenant Jonathan Brown said. "Typically, we leave a technological bread crumb and those are usually very easy and quick to be tracked."

Netflix released a new season of "Unsolved Mysteries" last year with an episode centered on parental abductions.

Remarkably, Unbehaun's story was not the main focus of the episode. Her picture was only part of a brief roll call of missing people at the end of the episode, the pictures digitally-age progressed.

Still, a minor working at a shopping center in Asheville spotted Unbehaun and recognized her from the Netflix series.

"The media is so important when it comes to the recovery of missing children," Callahan Walsh of the National Center For Missing and Exploited Children said. "Even in these long term cases, the more we tell the story of these missing children and put their images out to the public, the more likely that they're going to be recovered."

Unbehaun's father said, "I'm overjoyed that Kayla is home safe... We ask for privacy as we get to know each other again and navigate this new beginning."

Her mother, Heather Unbehaun, 40, is now in custody and charged with child abduction. She was booked into the Buncombe County Detention Facility on a $250,000 secured bond.

Kayla was turned over to the North Carolina Department of Social Services, which contacted Illinois authorities, ABC affiliate WLOS reported. The day after she was found, her father drove to pick her up. She has since returned to Illinois.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.