Kayla Unbehaun: Family of missing Illinois girl found after 6 years hopes for 'new beginning'
ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA: The family of a South Elgin girl kidnapped by her own mother six years ago released a statement after she was found safe. Kayla Unbehaun, now 15, was abducted in 2017 when she was nine years old and was located only six years later after someone recognized her mother from "published media" and alerted the authorities.
Kayla's disappearance was featured on an episode of the popular Netflix series 'Unsolved Mysteries' in November 2022, albeit law enforcement did not say whether that report was referenced by the witness. After she was found, her father Ryan Iskerka issued a statement through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
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"I am overjoyed that Kayla is home safe," Ryan gushed. "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 continued. "I also want to thank all of the followers on the 'Bring Kayla Home' Facebook page, who helped keep her story alive and were instrumental in spreading awareness. We ask for privacy as we get to know each other again and navigate this new beginning.”
Police revealed how Heather was taken into custody and expected to be extradited to northern Illinois, where she is reportedly accused of abducting her daughter. Ryan and Heather ended their relationship just weeks after Kayla was born. The split led to a lengthy custody battle, and both parents were awarded shared custody of their child at the end of the trial. On July 5, 2017, Ryan went to pick his daughter up from an address in Wheaton but learned that Heather had packed her vehicle and absconded with their daughter the day before. A couple of weeks passed before the Kane County State's Attorney's Office issued a kidnapping warrant for Heather. The mother and daughter duo hadn't been located until Saturday, May 13, when a woman at a Plato's Closet in Asheville recognized Heather from "published media" and called the police, per Asheville police spokeswoman Samantha Booth.
Buncombe County, North Carolina, Deputy Clerk Cory Alexander told CNN on Tuesday, May 16, that Heather was taken into custody and held on a $250,000 bond while awaiting extradition. While the charges against her aren't listed, she has reportedly been given a July 11 court date. Meanwhile, Kayla was placed into the custody of the North Carolina Division of Social Services and was expected to be reunited with her family and brought back to Illinois at the time of publication. During her disappearance, NEMEC (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children) released an age-progression photo of her.
Earlier this year, Kayla's father posted an emotional tribute to his then-missing daughter on her 15th birthday, on January 5. "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," Ryan wrote on the Facebook page 'Bring Kayla Home.' "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," the post read. "There are so many others who love you and miss you as well."
"You are a young woman now with your own thoughts and opinions. I hope you are old enough to realize you only know half of the story from one point of view," the embattled father continued. "I hope you could remember [the] truth about how things were when we were all able to be together, how good things really were."
"The truth is I'm still alive and love you with every beat of my heart. I love you so much that there can be no bounds to measure it by. I have loved you since before you were even alive when you were just a possibility," the post added. "I've dreamed about being your Dada since I was a little boy. And I've loved you through all of this, no matter what will happen, and will continue to love you forever. I've never wanted anything but the best for you which I feel part of that is being in each other's lives," Ryan concluded.