Six years ago, Kayla Unbehaun vanished from her Illinois hometown in an apparent abduction by her mother, who did not have custody.
Six months ago, a photo of a nine-year-old appeared on an episode of the Netflix show Mysteries Unsolved, depicting what she would look like in an age-progression image and discussing parental abductions.
Last month, a series of events, starting with Kayla’s reunion with her father in the Midwest and leading to the arrest of her mother, resulted in Kayla being recognized as a missing child at a store in North Carolina.
Here’s all the information we have about Kayla’s kidnapping and successful rescue — and the unresolved questions in the investigation.
Kayla, who was born on July 5, 2008 to Ryan Iskerka and Heather Unbehaun in the western suburbs of Chicago, was supposed to go back to her father on her ninth birthday. However, in 2017, Kayla spent July 4th with her mother. Following the separation of the couple, a judge granted permanent custody of the child to her father.
Heather, according to police interviews, indicated that she went on a camping trip to an unknown location in Wisconsin and was expected to return on Wednesday, July 5th at 7pm. She wrote in a GoFundMe established just a few days later, “Mr. Iskerka packed up her belongings and was last seen on the roof of her car.”
Since July 4th, we have been unable to reach her or know anything about her. It was discovered that Heather had turned off her phone and canceled all her social media accounts. The police were immediately contacted and an investigation was launched, but Kayla and Heather did not show up for the court-ordered exchange.
She was completely unaware of what had happened and was very concerned. Her lawyer had not spoken to her for days. Additionally, on Friday, June 7th, Heather did not show up for a court date she was motioned for. I filed a missing person’s report for both Kayla and Heather the day after this happened.
In an effort to find the child and Unbehaun, South Elgin law enforcement followed various leads and tips, collaborating with police departments from across the nation. Subsequently, a judge established her bail at $10,000. The Kane County State’s Attorney announced on Tuesday in a statement that Ms Unbehaun was accused in 2017 of child kidnapping, a Class 4 felony, following Mr Iskerka’s submission of the missing person’s reports.
Meanwhile, Mr. Iskerka was writing an appeal on GoFundMe, seeking information and donations to cover the additional costs associated with the search for Kayla’s safety and health. He planned to use the funds to hire a private investigator, as the safety and well-being of his family and the return of Kayla were his top priorities. He greatly appreciated any help we could receive in funding this.
Almost four years ago, the most recent contribution documented on the platform arrived, generating slightly more than $2,500 towards its $10,000 target from July 2017 to May 2023.
Images of missing children are shown from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), depicting the progression of age and missing posters. In the final installment of the third season of Netflix’s program, a parent ends up being the one who abducted Kayla, as featured in an episode of Unsolved Mysteries on Netflix in November.
As an adolescent, an image of what she may resemble emerges on the screen next to a photograph of Kayla at the age of nine for a duration of approximately five seconds.
The page has more than 7,000 followers. Kayla was seen in Wheaton after five days. The GoFundMe page was created on the same day. It was recently shared on April 21. The Facebook page, Home Kayla Bring A, was also promoting the progression of age through images.
As per officials, Kayla and her mom were present at Westgate Regional Shopping Center on Saturday evening (13 May) in Asheville, North Carolina when they grabbed the attention of an individual at the high-end resale store Plato’s Closet.
South Elgin law enforcement reached out to Asheville authorities, who promptly contacted an employee at a local store. On Tuesday, the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office shared on social media that the individual “identified Unbehaun and remembered that the child was reported as missing.”
“The South Elgin police verified the identity of the two individuals as Heather Unbehaun and the child who was reported missing.”
Ms Unbehauen, who is 40 years old, was later arrested, and Kayla has since been reunited with her father.
Mr Iskerka, in a statement released by the NCMEC, expressed his immense happiness that Kayla has returned home safely.
Mr. Iskerka continued to express his gratitude to all the law enforcement agencies that assisted in the case, as well as the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. He also thanked the South Elgin Police Department for their help in spreading awareness and keeping Kayla’s story alive on the Facebook page “Bring Kayla Home.” Additionally, he expressed his gratitude to all the followers of the page for their support. Mr. Iskerka acknowledged the beginning of a new chapter and asked for privacy as they navigate this journey together.
Chief Jerry Krawczyk of Elgin South Police also thanked citizens across the country who dedicatedly worked to bring help to other law enforcement agencies.
In a statement released on Tuesday, he expressed, “We are overjoyed to report that the child is in good spirits and in good condition, having been reunited with her father.”
Well-wishers and law enforcement agencies across several states were celebrating as investigators and families looking for missing people have been offered hope in the case.
According to Asheville Police Lt. Jonathan Brown, he stated, “This is an uncommon occurrence, something we don’t come across regularly or frequently.” “I firmly believe that this is a one-of-a-kind situation.”
He was amazed at how Kayla’s mother had successfully remained unnoticed for several years.
He remarked, “This was not the case. Those are typically quite effortless and rapid to be located. Normally, we leave a technological trail and during that specific time frame, if you may, evading digital surveillance is the most extraordinary capability.”
Charged with the crime of abduction, she surrendered herself the next day in Kane County, Illinois, after being let go from detention and paying a $25,000 bond on Tuesday. She chose not to waive the felony offense of extradition and was accused after being apprehended in Buncombe County, Ms Unbehaun.
The spokesperson from the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office informed The Independent that Ms Unbehaun is prohibited from being within a 1,000-foot radius of Kayla’s father’s home and is not allowed to leave Illinois without authorization from the court. Kayla’s father obtained a restraining order against Ms Unbehaun. On Thursday (18 May), the 40-year-old appeared before Judge Julia Yetter and has been granted release on bond while wearing an electronic monitoring device.
Frequently on probation, a Class 4 Felony in Illinois has the potential to result in a prison term ranging from one to three years. The individual, who is 40 years old, is due to appear in court again on 14 June.
The Independent has contacted attorneys representing Mr Iskerka and Ms Unbehaun.