ASHEVILLE, N.C. (WSPA) – She was missing for 6 years, but a girl from Illinois has been found safe in Asheville.
The Asheville Police Department said they were called to a business at 26 Westgate Parkway on the night of May 13 to investigate a possible kidnapping. What they found when they arrived was a teenager who had been missing since 2017.
Kayla Unbehaun was abducted from South Elgin, Illinois when she was 9-years-old. Now, she’s 15 and was found in Asheville with her mother.
“That’s what’s so great about this story, Kayla is now home with her father, safe. It’s amazing when we get these wins, this is beyond a home run for us,” said Callahan Walsh, with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Authorities believe Kayla was taken by her mother, Heather Unbehaun, on July 5, 2017, while on a camping trip.
Her father, Ryan Iskerka, reported her missing when the two failed to return from the trip.
Walsh said family abductions can be difficult for the children.
“I’ve been kidnapped by one of my parents, what that parent is telling them about the other, is that true. A life on the run for a child is no life to live,” he said.
He said even when children are abducted by family, it can be an unsafe situation for the child.
“These can be very dangerous situations for children, even though they are being abducted by a family member. Or in this case, the child’s own mother,” said Walsh. “It’s still a dangerous situation for any child to be in.”
Right now, Walsh said it’s unclear how long Kayla was living in Asheville, whether she was going to school or seeing a doctor regularly.
He said when children go missing, the most important tool in the recovery is to get their photo out there.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has been working Kayla’s case since her disappearance, and every two years they released age progression photos. He says they get the stories of missing children out to both local and national media.
“It’s because of that media attention that someone was able to spot Kayla and is the reason that Kayla is now home safe with her father,” said Walsh.
The Asheville Police Department said someone recognized the photo of Kayla’s mother, which led them to the investigation.
Kayla is now back home in Illinois. Walsh said the father and daughter will be getting to know each other, all over again.
“There is a long road for these families, the reunification process can be difficult, and so, it will take time for Kayla and her father to get whole again,” he said.
The mother is facing abduction charges. The Buncombe County Detention Facility said her bond was set at $250,000. She has bonded out of jail, but is still set to be extradited back to Illinois.
Kayla’s dad, Ryan asked NCMEC to share this statement on his behalf,
“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.”
Walsh said they will continue to provide their resources to the family.
He said the public can help find missing children, it’s as easy as posting the image of a child missing on social media. To view the database of missing children and search in your area, click here.