Chantel Brink
Chantel Brink
July 5, 2024 ·  4 min read

Never Give Up: 6 Missing Children Stories With The Happiest of Endings

When one thinks of missing children, it surely stirs up some rather contentious feelings. Kayla Unbehaun was only nine years old when she was reportedly kidnapped by her mother in Illinois. After six long years and being featured on Netflix‘s “Unsolved Mysteries,” Kayla has finally been found alive and safe in North Carolina.

Missing Children – The Moment of Discovery

missing children - Police said Kayla Unbehaun has now been reunited with her father in Illinois and is in good condition.
Image Credit: NCMEC

On May 13, the now 15-year-old was shopping with her mother, Heather Unbehaun, at Plato’s Closet in Asheville. It was there that a sharp-eyed store employee recognized them and alerted the police. Heather was subsequently arrested but has since been released after posting a $250,000 bail, according to WLOS-TV.

Read More: ‘I allow myself to be sad’: How Claire is preparing her young children for her death

Reunited with Family

Kayla has been reunited with her father, Ryan Iserka, in Illinois and is reported to be in good condition.
Image Credit: NCMEC

Kayla has been reunited with her father, Ryan Iserka, in Illinois and is reported to be in good condition. “I’m overjoyed that Kayla is home safe,” Iserka said in a statement to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. He extended his gratitude to the South Elgin Police Department, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, and all law enforcement agencies involved in the case. Additionally, he thanked the followers of the “Bring Kayla Home” Facebook page for their support and awareness efforts. “We ask for privacy as we get to know each other again and navigate this new beginning,” Iserka added.

A Mother’s Abduction

missing children - According to a GoFundMe page, Heather was last seen packing her car, and her phone and social media accounts were deactivated.
Image Credit: South Elgin Police Department

At the time of Kayla’s disappearance, her father had full custody, while her mother had weekly visitation rights. On July 5, 2017, after a court-ordered visit, Iserka went to pick Kayla up from her mother’s house in Wheaton, Illinois but found neither of them there. According to a GoFundMe page, Heather was last seen packing her car, and her phone and social media accounts were deactivated.

Vehicle Blue Emergency Light Turned on
Image Credit: Pexels

A felony warrant for kidnapping was issued for Heather on July 29, 2017. Since Kayla’s disappearance, her case has been widely covered in news and media reports. In 2020, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) posted an age-progression photo to help the public recognize her. Her father also gave numerous interviews to keep the story in the public eye.

A photo of Kayla and her mother appeared in a 2022 episode of Netflix’s “Unsolved Mysteries” focused on family abductions. Heather Unbehaun is scheduled to appear in court on July 11 in North Carolina and is expected to be extradited to Illinois.

The Broader Context of Missing Children

missing children - Crime Scene Do Not Cross Signage
Image Credit: Pexels

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children reports that hundreds of thousands of children are reported missing each year. While many are briefly runaways, abandoned, or taken by relatives, a much smaller number, about 115 annually, are victims of stereotypical kidnapping. This type of abduction involves being taken by a stranger or acquaintance, held far from home, and kept with the intent of permanent captivity. This case echoes other high-profile abductions with eventual happy, though complex, resolutions.

Read More: Escaping a Nightmare: The Kidnapping of Abby Hernandez

Jaycee Dugard

Jaycee Dugard during an interview with ABC News.
Image Credit: ABC NEWS

Jaycee Lee Dugard was kidnapped in 1991 at age 11 and held captive for 18 years by Phillip Garrido, a paroled sex offender. She was rescued in 2009 after Garrido brought his two daughters, whom he fathered with Dugard, to a university campus. Garrido received a 431-year prison sentence, and his wife, Nancy, got 36 years to life. Dugard detailed her experience in her memoir, “A Stolen Life.”

Elizabeth Smart

missing children - Elizabeth Smart discuses "Elizabeth Smart: Autobiography" with the Build Series at Build Studio on November 10, 2017 in New York City.
Image Credit: ROY ROCHLIN/GETTY

Elizabeth Smart was abducted at knifepoint in 2002 at age 14 from her Salt Lake City home. She was held for nine months by Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee, before being recognized and rescued. Mitchell is serving a life sentence, while Barzee received 15 years. Smart has since become an activist and television commentator.

Shawn Hornbeck

Shawn Hornbeck hugs his family after being rescued from the home of Michael Devlin.
Image Credit: X

Shawn Hornbeck was last seen riding his bike in Richwoods, Missouri, in 2002. Four years later, he was discovered during a search for another missing boy, revealing that Michael Devlin had held him captive. Hornbeck later founded a support organization for abducted children. Its incredible how missing children have decided to help others.

Carlina White

missing children - Carlina White (middle) with her biological parents Carl Tyson, and Joy White
Image Credit: NY Post

Carlina White was kidnapped as a newborn from a Manhattan hospital in 1987. She discovered her true identity in 2010 after recognizing her baby pictures on the NCMEC website. Ann Pettway, who raised her, was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Katie Beers

Katie Beers was kidnapped in 1993 at age 10 and held in a dungeon by John Esposito.
Image Credit: Inside Edition

Katie Beers was kidnapped in 1993 at age 10 and held in a dungeon by John Esposito. Her case gained national attention, revealing years of prior abuse. Beers, now an advocate, wrote “Buried Memories,” highlighting her recovery journey.

The Human Spirit

missing children - Woman Holding a Smiley Balloon
Image Credit: Pexels

Kayla Unbehaun’s story, like those of Dugard, Smart, Hornbeck, White, and Beers, reminds us of the resilience of the human spirit and the importance of never giving up hope. Her safe return marks the end of a six-year ordeal and the beginning of a new chapter for her and her family.

Read More: Woman saves two girls from alleged kidnapper after getting bad feeling

Sources

  1. Missing girl featured on ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ found safe after 6 yearsScripps News. Alex Arger. May 16, 2023.
  2. ‘Never give up hope’: 5 missing child stories with happy endingsKGW8. May 7, 2023.