Missing Illinois girl from Netflix series reunited with father after 6 years, mother charged

A teenaged girl abducted by her mother six years ago in the western suburbs was back home with her father on Tuesday.

Police say the girl was spotted in North Carolina after her abduction story was briefly highlighted on a Netflix show.

South Elgin Police Chief Jerry Krawczyk said they had been working hard on the case as recently as last week.

"We were overjoyed. To see something like this after (six) years end in such a positive way was remarkable," he said.

Krawczyk said they never gave up hope of finding Kayla Unbehaun.

In July 2017, Unbehaun, then 9-years-old, was abducted by her mother Heather Unbehaun during a parental visit in Wheaton. Both mother and daughter then disappeared.


The girl’s father, Ryan Iskerka, of South Elgin, had full custody of the girl at the time. Heather Unbehaun only had visitation rights.

The case was featured by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which had released age progression sketches of the girl.

Additionally, the parental abduction was recently included in the "Unsolved Mysteries" series on Netflix.

On Saturday an employee working at a Plato’s Closet clothing store in Asheville, North Carolina, recognized the mother and now 15-year-old Kayla from the TV show and called 911.

"Officers responded and through their investigation, over a period of a few minutes and into hours, revealed that it was, in fact, a case of a missing person/kidnapping," said Asheville Police Lt. Jonathan Brown.

Leemie Kahng-Sofer of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said the recovery highlights the fact that no missing child can be forgotten.

"Something like this, really amazing, incredible recovery after so many years, just reinforces our belief, thought, and mantra to never give up hope," Kahng-Sofer said.

Kayla is back with her dad in South Elgin. He told FOX 32 Chicago he’s overjoyed to have her home and said she’s doing surprisingly well.

However, an expert on parental abduction cases said it can be a difficult adjustment.

"It’s a long term process and journey," said Kahng-Sofer. "It also depends on what they underwent while they were missing. What they were told about the other parent. There could be significant parental alienation."

She said NCMEC is providing counseling and therapy to help Kayla as she settles back into her former life.

Kayla's father obtained order of protection against Heather Unbehaun this week. 

On Tuesday, Heather Unbehaun was released from a North Carolina jail on bond and is facing a class four felony charge of child abduction in Kane County.

She surrendered to the Kane County Jail on Wednesday. 

Heather appeared in court Thursday morning. She was ordered to wear an electronic monitoring device. Her bail remained the same from the 2017 warrant – $10,000 with 10 percent to apply. 

The bond conditions do not permit her to leave Illinois without court permission, she cannot have contact with anyone on the order of protection and cannot be within 1,000 feet of the Iskerka residence. 

Heather's next court date is June 14.