Abducted Girl Featured On ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ Is Found Safe In North Carolina After A Stranger Recognized Her

Published May 16, 2023
Updated May 19, 2023

Kayla Unbehaun was only nine years old when her non-custodial mother abducted her. Six years later, the hit Netflix series Unsolved Mysteries led to her identification in North Carolina.

Kayla Unbehaun

National Center for Missing and Exploited ChildrenAn age progression photo of Kayla Unbehaun.

Kayla Unbehaun, a 15-year-old girl who was abducted by her mother when she was nine, has finally been found after an unidentified stranger in a shop in Asheville, North Carolina recognized her from an episode of Netflix’s Unsolved Mysteries.

The National Center for Missing And Exploited Children (NCMEC), an organization that has been attempting to locate Kayla for the past six years, stated that her non-custodial mother, Heather Unbehaun, abducted the young girl from South Elgin, Illinois on July 5, 2017.

According to Kayla’s father Ryan, Kayla had been staying with her mother for a few days. When Ryan came to pick her up, Kayla and her mother were gone.

Heather Unbehaun did not have custody of her daughter and was only allowed supervised visits, CNN reports, and police issued a felony arrest warrant for her on kidnapping charges on July 28, 2017

For years, Ryan Unbehaun desperately searched for his daughter, working with organizations like NCMEC to aid in the investigation. He also created the Facebook group “Bring Kayla Home” where he posted updates on the case. Just this January, Ryan made a heartwarming birthday post for Kayla:

“Happy 15th birthday, Kayla. 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 and happy and that you will come back into my life soon.”

In his message, Ryan also acknowledged that Heather may have convinced Kayla that he was dead, or that she may be telling Kayla things about him to turn her against him.

“You are a young woman now with your own thoughts and opinions,” he wrote. “I hope you are old enough to realize 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.”

Kayla Unbehaun And Father

National Center for Missing and Exploited ChildrenKayla Unbehaun and her father at a sporting event.

Fortunately, NCMEC created an age progression of Kayla Unbehaun that later appeared in a 2022 episode of the hit Netflix series Unsolved Mysteries, which has been viewed by millions of people.

And it’s that show that finally led to the identification of Kayla Unbehaun.

While shopping with her mother at a Plato’s Closet Ashville, 15-year-old Kayla caught the attention of an unidentified stranger, who recognized her from the show.

The stranger then alerted a store employee, who discreetly called the police, and they later arrived and arrested Heather Unbehaun. She is now facing child abduction charges and is being held in Asheville on a $250,000 bond. Kayla, meanwhile, has been reunited with her father.

With news of the arrest, NCMEC released a celebratory statement on Twitter, writing “NCMEC is excited to share that Kayla Unbehaun has been found safe in North Carolina!”

While NCMEC and the public rejoice at the news, the one person who has celebrated the most is Ryan Unbehaun.

In a public NCMEC statement, Ryan wrote:

“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. We ask for privacy as we get to know each other again and navigate this new beginning.”

After reading about Kayla Unbehaun, discover 11 other times the show Unsolved Mysteries has helped solve a case. Then, read the story of Carlina White, the woman who solved her own kidnapping.

Amber Breese
Amber Breese is a former Editorial Fellow for All That's Interesting. She graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in political science, history, and Russian. Previously, she worked as a content creator for America House Kyiv, a Ukrainian organization focused on inspiring and engaging youth through cultural exchanges.
Maggie Donahue
Maggie Donahue is an assistant editor at All That's Interesting. She has a Master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a Bachelor's degree in creative writing and film studies from Johns Hopkins University. Before landing at ATI, she covered arts and culture at The A.V. Club and Colorado Public Radio and also wrote for Longreads. She is interested in stories about scientific discoveries, pop culture, the weird corners of history, unexplained phenomena, nature, and the outdoors.