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Child missing since 2017 found safe in North Carolina

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(ASHEVILLE, N.C.) — A girl abducted in Illinois in 2017 when she was 9 has been found safe in North Carolina.

Kayla Unbehaun, 15, was located by police in Asheville, North Carolina, after a store employee called the police after recognizing the teen’s mother, who allegedly abducted her daughter in 2017, according to the Asheville Police Department and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

“It was the right thing to do,” the employee who said she called the police, told ABC News, requesting her identity and store not be published.

After investigating the kidnapping, officers consulted with the South Elgin Police Department to identify Heather Unbehaun, who kidnapped her daughter Kayla Unbehaun nearly six years ago, according to the Asheville Police Department.

“It is unusual, 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 to investigate,” Asheville Police Lt. Diana Loveland told ABC Asheville affiliate WLOS.

Her father, Ryan Iskerka, last saw then-9-year-old Kayla Unbehaun in 2017 after her mother, who did not have custody of the child, abducted Kayla Unbehaun on July 5, 2017, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

“I’m overjoyed that Kayla is home safe,” Iskerka said in a statement shared by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. “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.”

The case received attention in news reports and social media in the six years since the abduction. A photo of both Kayla and Heather Unbehaun was featured on an episode of Netflix’s “Unsolved Mysteries,” in an episode devoted to abductions by parents.

“When I found out you were gone, my heart was shattered into a million pieces….But there is nothing I want more than to have you back in my life,” Iskerka wrote in a public note on his daughter’s 12th birthday in 2020.

Heather Unbehaun was wanted in Illinois for child abduction, with an outstanding extradition warrant for her arrest. She is being held in the Buncombe County Detention Facility in North Carolina with a $250,000 bond, according to the Asheville Police Department.

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