South Elgin girl allegedly abducted in 2017 is found in North Carolina. ‘I’m overjoyed that Kayla is home safe.’

Kayla Unbehaun, now 15, was found after someone watched a show about her disappearance and recognized her at a shopping center, police said.

SHARE South Elgin girl allegedly abducted in 2017 is found in North Carolina. ‘I’m overjoyed that Kayla is home safe.’
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Kayla Unbehaun

In January, Ryan Iskerka posted a birthday message to his 15-year-old daughter, missing since she was 9 and allegedly abducted by her mother.

“You are a young woman now with your own thoughts and opinions,” he wrote. “I wonder what you are told about me. ... I’ve loved you through all of this, no matter what will happen and will continue to love you forever. Love, Dada”

Last weekend Iskerka was finally reunited with his daughter, Kayla Unbehaun, after someone who watched a show about her disappearance recognized her at a shopping center in Asheville, N.C., according to police and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

“I’m overjoyed that Kayla is home safe,” Iskerka said in a tweet sent out by the center. “We ask for privacy as we get to know each other again and navigate this new beginning.”

South Elgin police said Kayla was in “good condition and in good spirits since being reunited with her family.”

Kayla’s mother, Heather Unhebhaun, was charged with child abduction and released on bond. An arrest warrant had been issued for Unhebaun, 40, in July of 2017 shortly after she disappeared with Kayla, according to police.

Iskerka had been awarded custody of his daughter earlier that year, and Unbehaun had been given visitation rights, police said. Iskerka told authorities he last saw his daughter before she went to visit her mother in Wheaton just before the July 4 holiday.

Iskerka said he stopped after work on July 5 to pick up his daughter and was told by Unbehaun’s family that the mother and daughter had gone camping but had not returned and they did not know where the two were.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children posted the case on its website and updated it with pictures of what Kayla would look like as she grew older.

In January of 2020, as Kayla turned 12, Iskerka posted a letter on the center’s website “hoping it will find its way to Kayla, wishing her a happy birthday and sharing how dearly her family misses her.”

“I can’t physically give you a gift for your birthday so I hope this letter finds you,” Iskerka wrote. “I want to hold you in my arms, kiss your cheeks and see those beautiful eyes of yours again. At your home here you will always have a warm bed to sleep in, a place set for you at the dinner table and a spot next to me on the couch to hang out.”

Iskerka also maintained a “Bring Kayla Home” Facebook page where he regularly posted updates and messages addressed to Kayla.

Her case was recently the subject of an episode on Netflix’s “Unsolved Mysteries.” Someone recognized her from the show and called police.

“It is unusual,” said Asheville Police Lt. Diana Loveland. “But it’s good that when someone does suspect that they recognize someone, no matter how old the story might be, that they are not afraid to give us a call so we can come and investigate.”

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