Little Girl Abducted By Her Mom Is Finally Found After 6 Years, But Some Are On The Mother's Side — 'You Can't Kidnap Someone You Gave Birth To'

Parental abduction victim Kayla Unbehaun was found after a North Carolina shop owner saw her on Netflix's "Unsolved Mysteries."

parental abduction victim Kayla Unbehaun, her mother Heather Unbehaun, and 'Unsolved Mysteries' logo Netflix, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Asheville Police Department

It's certainly not the ending anyone expected, but thankfully it's a happy one—after six years of searching, an Illinois father has been reunited with his daughter, 15-year-old Kayla Unbehaun, following her 2017 disappearance after a trip with her mother Heather Unbehaun.

Kayla Unbehaun's rescue has sparked debate online over whether parents should face charges for parental abduction of their own children.


Despite perceptions about abduction and the way our media tends to depict the problem, children being abducted by strangers is vanishingly rare—non-family abductions account for only 1% of abductions according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

Among all the types of abduction, kidnappings by family members are the most common, with parental abduction making up the bulk of those cases by far according to the FBI. Much like in the case of Kayla Unbehaun, who was abducted by her mother Heather Unbehaun, non-custodial parents are the most common abductors. Nevertheless, Kayla's story has led some parents to take Heather Unbehaun's side.


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Kayla Unbehaun was allegedly kidnapped by her mother Heather in 2017.

Kayla was reported missing in 2017 by her father Ryan Iserka after she and her mother Heather didn't return from a camping trip.

Ryan Iserka of Elgin, Illinois had been granted full custody of his then-nine-year-old daughter Kayla after her mother Heather Unbehaun had failed to comply with previous court orders related to their custody dispute. Their custody arrangement allowed Heather supervised visits while Kayla lived with Iserka, his wife, and her two daughters.



Iserka agreed to allow Kayla to go on a camping trip with Heather over the July 4th holiday in 2017. But when he went to Unbehaun's Wheaton, Illinois home at the agreed-upon time on July 5, 2017 to pick Kayla up, there was no sign of either of them.


In a GoFundMe page, he set up, Iserka revealed that Unbehaun claimed skipped a custody hearing a month prior on June 7, 2017. Fearing the worst, he immediately reported Kayla as a victim of parental abduction, and shortly thereafter discovered Heather had deleted her entire online presence and shut her phone off. Her lawyer had not heard from her in weeks either.

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Kayla Unbehaun was found after a North Carolina shop employee saw her on Netflix's 'Unsolved Mysteries.'

The story of Kayla's discovery is truly remarkable. She was found after the manager of a Plato's Closet clothing shop in Asheville, North Carolina reported to local police that she had located the girl, now 15 years old.

The manager was alerted to Kayla's presence by an employee who recognized her from an episode of Netflix's "Unsolved Mysteries" that had centered on parental abduction. But Kayla's only presence in the episode was a brief appearance of her picture in a montage of age-processed photos of abducted children.


It was enough to tip the employee off, however, who also realized that she had known Kayla during her childhood. Kayla was reported to police, who noted how remarkable it was that Heather Unbehaun had managed not to leave any "technological breadcrumbs" that would have led authorities to her sooner.

Following the Plato's Closet employee's report, Heather Unbehaun was immediately arrested and held on $250,000 bond, which she has since posted. She now faces child abduction charges.

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Some online have questioned whether Heather Unbehaun should be charged with abduction for taking her own child. 

Kayla Unbehaun's story has left many astonished, and most have celebrated that she will soon be reunited with her dad. But some online have expressed outrage that a mother taking her little girl would even be considered an abduction. 

"That's her mother," one person on TikTok wrote. "you can’t kidnap someone you gave birth to." Others felt Unbehaun must have had her reasons for kidnapping her daughter. "Maybe my gut feeling is wrong but I feel like the mother was trying to protect her?"

Others felt that if Kayla were actually in danger she would have been found sooner. "A lot of moms go through custody issues... if she wasn't okay somebody would have had reported her," one user wrote, while another commented, "If she was a danger to her child why was she found safe, somethings not adding up."

Of course, those takes don't make a whole lot of sense, and many commenters pushed back by stating the obvious. "Everyone’s saying moms can’t kidnap their kids," one user wrote, "y’all there was obviously a REASON [Unbehaun] only had VISITATION!"


Fans of the true-crime podcast "The Vanished," which focuses on abductions, also pointed out details the podcast had revealed about what was allegedly behind Iserka and Unbehaun's custody battle. "The mom was becoming very dangerous and the dad only took custody to protect her medically," a fan wrote, "he wanted shared custody."

Regardless of what some online think, parental abduction is a very real and unsettlingly common problem. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children says more than 200,000 children are abducted by a family member each year, though the organization points out that scores of missing children are never reported. 

Despite the prevalence of the problem, the good news is that the vast majority of abducted children are recovered alive nowadays due to technological advances. Thankfully, even if it took six years, Kayla Unbehaun is one of them.


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John Sundholm is a news and entertainment writer who covers crime, social justice and human interest topics.