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Once thought 'hiding in plain sight' in Athens, Illinois girl found six years after abduction

Updated: May 19, 2023

Kayla Unbehaun

By Joe Johnson

A teenager has been reunited with her father in Illinois six years after her mother abducted her.

Kayla Unbehaun was 9 years old when she went missing in 2017 while in the care of her mother, Heather Unbehaun. It was thought that the woman had taken Kayla to Athens, but despite some reported sightings they were not located here.

Now 15, Kayla reportedly was recovered after witnesses on May 13 spotted her and her mother in Plato’s Closet in Asheville, NC. Authorities said that pair was recognized because the abduction case had been featured several months earlier in an episode of the Netflix series “Unsolved Mysteries.”

A nationwide search in 2018 narrowed its focus to Athens, where it was thought that Unbehaun was hiding “in plain sight” with Kayla.

Kayla’s father, Ryan Iserka, explained how his daughter’s saga unfolded and why he thought Kayla might be in Athens during a 2018 interview with this reporter.

Iserka said that he and Unbehaun, his former girlfriend, started out with an informal agreement concerning visitations with Kayla. But in 2012 Heather moved with her daughter to Athens without a visitation agreement.

“Heather was an R.E.M. fanatic and she fell in love with Athens long before Kayla was born,” Iserka said. “She really wanted to be part of the scene they have there."

After the move, Iserka said he went to court to secure a judge’s order that he be allowed to see Kayla in Illinois during her school breaks, but Unbehaun always came up with a medical excuse why she could not bring the girl to see her dad.

Heather Unbehaun (Asheville Police Department)

In January 2017 a judge ordered Unbehaun to return Kayla to Illinois and awarded Iserka full custody of his daughter, Iserka said.

Kayla began living with her father, who married in 2014, his wife and her two children. Unbehaun was allowed by the court to have weekly visitations with her child, Iserka said.

The last visit was the July Fourth weekend in 2017.

"(Unbehaun’s) family was having dinner at her house and when I went to pick her up on the way home from work they told me she hadn't come back from a camping trip and they didn't know where she was," he said.

Police in Athens said they learned that Unbehaun might have ties to the University of Georgia.

“I’m not sure what the ties are, but she used to live really close to the university and may have known people who worked there or attended there,” Iserka said. ”She mingled in the downtown area of Athens and may have also met people from the university.”

Iserka said he wanted to be reunited with Kayla because he missed her and wanted to know that she was safe.

“I am concerned because I don’t know her mother’s state of mind,” Iserka said to this reporter. “I don’t know what it’s like to be on the run like that and any vulnerable position it might put Kayla in."

Iserka reconnected with his daughter in North Carolina on Sunday, and they drove back to Illinois together. The man said he was overjoyed that Kayla was safe and at home.

In a statement through the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, Iserka thanked the NCM&EC and all of the law enforcement agencies that were involved in the search for Kayla.

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

Unbehaun remained in North Carolina and is awaiting a hearing to be extradited to Illinois, where she is wanted on a child abduction charge.

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1 Comment

Breadoflife Faiupu
Breadoflife Faiupu
May 19, 2023

Boring 😴

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