A young girl who was abducted by her mother in Illinois has finally been found safe six years after she vanished, when a North Carolina store owner recognised her from a Netflix show.
Kayla Unbehaun was nine years old when she disappeared without a trace while in the care of her mother Heather Unhebhaun.
It was 4 July 2017, and Kayla had gone for a visit with her mother, who had visitation rights but not full custody of her daughter.
The next day, Kayla’s father – who had full custody – went to pick her up from her mother’s house in Wheaton, Illinois, to find his daughter and her mother were missing.
A search was launched to track down the abducted child but, for years, the trail went cold.
However, Kayla’s story wasn’t forgotten and the case was featured on an episode of Netflix’s “Unsolved Mysteries” series, titled “Abducted by a Parent”.
Last month, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) released an age-progression photo to show how Kayla may look now, aged 15.
Almost six years after she vanished, a chance sighting more than 600 miles away in North Carolina has finally led to authorities locating the missing child.
An unidentified owner of a store in Asheville spotted Kayla, now aged 15, in a local shopping centre and recognised her from the Netflix show, reported WSOC.
The Good Samaritan called police, who found Kayla and took her into protective custody.
Ms Unbehaun was arrested and charged with one count of child abduction, according to the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office.
She is being held on $250,000 bond and further charges are also possible.
The NCMEC – which had posted alerts to try to find Kayla over the past five-plus years – shared a message from Kayla’s father celebrating the news that his daughter had been found safe.
“I’m overjoyed that Kayla is home safe. I want to thank the South Elgin Police Department, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and all of the law enforcement agencies who assisted with her case,” he said.
“We ask for privacy as we get to know each other again and navigate this new beginning.”
Over the years, Kayla’s father Ryan had continued to promote his daughter’s case on the Facebook page “Bring Kayla Home”.
On 6 January, he posted a birthday message to his missing daughter and spoke of his hopes that they would be reunited soon.
“Happy 15th birthday, Kayla. I love you and miss you so much. I can’t wait for the day that I get to see you again, hoping each day I wake up will be the day,” he said.
“It could never come soon enough. I think of you every day hoping and praying that you are safe, happy and that you will come back into my life soon.”