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Missing teen rescued after motorist notices her using TikTok hand sign alerting she was in danger

A motorist in Kentucky called 911 on Thursday to report seeing a girl in distress inside a passing car.

Missing teen rescued after motorist notices her using TikTok hand sign alerting she was in danger
Cover Image Source: Twitter/Canadian Women's Foundation

Trigger warning: This story contains themes of abuse that some readers may find distressing.

Authorities were able to rescue a missing teenager from North Carolina last week after she caught a driver's attention using hand gestures popularized on TikTok. According to the Laurel County Sheriff's Office in Kentucky, the 16-year-old from Asheville, North Carolina, was reported missing by her parents on Tuesday. On Thursday, a motorist in Kentucky called 911 to report seeing a girl in distress inside a silver-colored Toyota car. "The complainant was behind the vehicle and noticed a female passenger in the vehicle making hand gestures that are known on the social media platform 'Tik Tok' to represent violence at home -- I need help -- domestic violence," the Laurel County Sheriff's Office said in a statement, reports CNN.


According to NBC News, the alert led to the arrest of 61-year-old James Herbert Brick of Cherokee, North Carolina. The girl — whose name hasn't been released — told authorities that she had traveled with Brick through North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Ohio. Laurel County Sheriff John Root revealed that investigators also located a phone in Brick's possession that "allegedly portrayed a juvenile female in a sexual manner." Brick now faces charges for unlawful imprisonment and possession of material showing a sex performance by a minor over the age of 12 but under age 18. He's currently being held at the Laurel County Correctional Center on a $10,000 cash bond.


The person who called 911 stayed behind the vehicle for seven miles, relaying information to police until officers were able to pull over the car and rescue the teen. Police revealed that the suspect originally took the teen from North Carolina to Ohio where he has relatives but left the location when his relatives found out that the girl was a minor and was reported missing. "We don't know how long coming down the interstate from Ohio that she had been doing this to other motorists hoping that they would notice that she was in distress, but finally someone did recognize," said Laurel County Sheriff's Deputy Gilbert Acciardo.


Although the sheriff's office did not describe the sign used by the teen, it is widely believed to be a hand gesture first introduced by the Canadian Women's Foundation last year. The foundation launched the Signal for Help, a hand signal that would allow a victim to secretly alert others of their plight, in response to rising cases of domestic abuse across the world amid the pandemic. "The social isolation measures necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic are making it more difficult for those who are at risk of abuse or violence to safely reach out for help," the foundation explained on its website.


"'Signal for Help' is a simple one-handed sign someone can use on a video call. It can help a person silently show they need help and want someone to check in with them in a safe way. The Signal for Help is a tool that may help some people, some of the time..." the website states. To discreetly alert someone of domestic abuse during a video call or in other situations, face your palm forward and with your thumb tucked in, then close your other fingers over your thumb to "trap" it.


The sign does not necessarily mean one must immediately alert authorities, the foundation notes. "If you see someone use the Signal for Help, check in with the person safely to find out what they need and want you to do. They may want to tell you what is happening. They may ask you to listen and be there for them. They may ask for help finding services.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911 or your local emergency services (police, fire, ambulance)," the Canadian Women's Foundation website states.


Some ways to check in on an individual who is at risk of abuse or violence include calling them and asking questions that can be answered with a "yes" or "no." This would reduce the chances of putting them in further danger in case their abuser is listening. "Use another form of communication such as text, social media, WhatsApp, or email and ask general questions. This may reduce risk if someone is watching the person’s device or accounts," the website advises. 

If you are being subjected to domestic abuse or know of anyone else who is, please visit The National Domestic Violence Hotline website, call 1-800-799-7233 or text LOVEIS to 22522.

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