Kayla Unbehaun was just 9 years old when she was abducted by her non-custodial mother, Heather Unbehaun. Heather and Kayla were last seen in Illinois on 5 July 2017.
For six years Kayla’s dad, Ryan Iskerka has been hoping for the day his little girl would be located and returned to him. He even agreed to feature her story in an episode of Netflix’s ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ in hopes of raising awareness for his missing daughter.
On 13 May a store owner in North Carolina recognised the little girl from the Netflix episode and alerted the police.
Kayla, now 15 years old, has been reunited with her father as the two get to know each other again.
Rewind to 2017 when Kayla was 9 years old and living with her dad. Heather only had visitation rights with the little girl.
During one of those visits, Heather packed a bag for herself and her child and disappeared. When Ryan came to pick his daughter up, he was informed that they were gone.
‘I can’t wait for the day I get to see you again’
For years Ryan held onto the hope that his daughter and Heather would be located. On 5 Jan 2023, he shared a touching tribute to Kayla, on her 15th birthday through Facebook page, Bring Kayla Home. With it, he included a photo of younger Kayla with Ryan and her siblings.
“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. 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,. There are so many others who love you and miss you as well.”
Ryan also addressed the notion that Kayla has most likely been living with her mother for several years now and most likely doesn’t know the true story or what exactly happened to her father.
“You are a young woman now with your own thoughts and opinions. I hope you are old enough to realise you only know half of the story from one point of view. 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. I’ve dreamt 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.”
Netflix show leads to Kayla’s return
Last year Kayla’s kidnapping was featured in an episode of Netflix’s “Unsolved Mysteries” dedicated to parental abductions. This led to an employee at Plato’s Closet in Asheville, North Carolina – around a 10-hour drive away from where Kayla was last seen – recognising the pair from the episode.
Police were able to find both Kayla and Heather and, while the details surrounding how this happened are not released, we do know that Kayla is in the care of North Carolina Social Services for the time being.
Heather, now 40, has been arrested by local authorities and is being held on $225,000 bond. She is awaiting extradition to Illinois, where the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office is prepared to charge her with at least one count of child abduction.
A very emotional Ryan spoke out about his daughter’s return and being with her again.
“I’m overjoyed that Kayla is home safe. 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.
“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.”
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