Missing Teen Rescued From 61-Year-Old Man Was Not Saved By Using TikTok Hand Signal Despite Sheriff's Claims

Photo: Facebook / Laurel County Sheriff / TikTok
James Herbert Brick, Hand Signal For Help

James Herbert Brick was arrested in Kentucky after a teen passenger in his car signaled to another motorist using a hand gesture which became well known on TikTok over the past year.

Intial reports from the Laurel County Sheriff's Office claimed that a 911 caller had recognized the signal.

However, the caller now says that while he did see the teen making a hand gesture, he didn't recognize it but, instead, observed she was mouthing "help me."

The hand gesture was originally started by the Canadian Women’s Foundation in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Since then, the gesture has blown up on TikTok as creators have continued to promote and make videos about it.

And while it may not have played a crucial role in the particular case, it is still worth learning about.

What is the hand signal for help?

The gesture involves facing an open palm outward, toward the intended viewer. Then you take your thumb and press it over into the middle of your palm. Finally, take your four fingers and wrap them down over your thumb.

As the Canadian Women’s Foundation page says, “'Signal for Help' is a simple one-handed sign someone can use on a video call. It can help a person silently show they need help and want someone to check in with them in a safe way.”

The gesture is meant to be useable on video calls or in person. It’s easy to do, repeatable and very subtle.

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The missing teen was rescued after using the hand signal.

On Thursday, November 4th, Brick was driving through Kentucky. The 61-year-old North Carolina man was transporting a 16-year-old girl with whom he was acquainted.

Reportedly, the 16-year-old initially went with Brick willingly but became distressed and may have feared for her life during the trip.

That’s when a motorist near Brick’s car noticed that his 16-year-old was silently pleading for help. 

"She was mouthing 'help me.' She said 'help me, help me' twice. I think she even lip-synced 'call 911.' ... It looked like she had been crying," the caller said in a recent interview.

Laurel County Police soon intercepted Brick’s car and he has since been charged with first-degree unlawful imprisonment, possession of matter sex performance by a minor over the age of 12 but under age 18.

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The 16-year-old had been reported missing by her parents in Asheville North Carolina two days earlier.

She told police that she had originally willingly gone with Brick but that after traveling through several states and changing direction, she became concerned and started trying to signal to other motorists that she needed help.

Laurel County Police arrested Brick and found that there were sexually explicit images of a minor on his phone.

Instances of domestic violence and abuse have gone up significantly during the pandemic.

Tools like the “Signal for Help” gesture might seem circumstantial or ineffective at a glance are just another tool to help victims and to combat domestic abuse.

Possibly the most important lesson to be taken away from this story is to keep an eye out.

You never know when you might cross paths with someone who needs your help.

RELATED: 8 Early Warning Signs Of Silent Domestic Abuse

Dan O'Reilly is a writer who covers news, politics, and social justice. Follow him on Twitter.