A 16-year-old girl who had been missing for several days was rescued Thursday when she caught the attention of a driver by using hand gestures to signal she was in distress, a Kentucky sheriff’s office said.
The Laurel County, Kentucky Sheriff’s Department said 61-year-old James Herbert Brick of Cherokee, North Carolina, was arrested Thursday afternoon for “unlawful imprisonment” after he was pulled over off an interstate with the missing teen in the back seat. The sheriff’s office also said he was found to have sexual images of a teenager on his phone.
The hand gestures used by the teen have been popularized on TikTok and “represent violence at home – I need help – domestic violence,” the sheriff’s office said. A witness in car driving behind Brick’s Toyota called 911 upon recognizing the hand signals and told dispatchers the teen appeared to be in “distress.”
Deputies waited at an exit to the interstate and pulled Brick over for a traffic stop, where they found out the teenage passenger had been reported missing on Tuesday by her parents in Asheville, North Carolina.
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According to the teenager, she had traveled with Brick through North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio, the sheriff’s department release says.
The department did not share what sign the teen used, but advocates have previously advised people in distress to use hand signals to discreetly ask for help.
The Canadian Women’s Foundation says an international, universal signal for help in a case of domestic violence or other distress can be made with one hand. 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 you must call authorities immediately, the foundation notes, but rather it indicates, “reach out to me safely.”
The sign has been shared on social media platforms including TikTok, particularly as research has shown the coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns have led to an increase in domestic violence cases.
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People are advised to use the hand signal discreetly on web cameras or other situations when they cannot freely speak about a dangerous situation or call for help.
“The Signal for Help is a tool that may help some people, some of the time. Some people do not have the ability to make video calls. Please find other resources, services, and programs below that may be helpful in an unsafe situation at home,” The Canadian Women’s Foundation notes.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Hand signal for help from TikTok helped save missing girl: Sheriff