Laurel County Sheriff's Office / Canadian Women's Foundation
The teen managed to signal to a passing motorist — who luckily recognized the hand gesture.
A teenage girl missing from North Carolina was rescued by police in Kentucky after she secretly used a distress signal popularized on TikTok.
On Thursday, Laurel County Sheriff's Department received a 911 call from a concerned motorist, who had recognized the call for help.
The caller told deputies she had seen a female passenger in a silver Toyota car driving southbound through north London, flashing a fist with her thumb wrapped inside — a signal that represents "violence at home – I need help – domestic violence."
The caller said the car was being driven by a man, and that the girl inside appeared to be in distress. The witness began following the Toyota and providing location updates to the officers.
As officers positioned themselves at a freeway exit to observe the vehicle, the caller informed them it was exiting there, so they intercepted and pulled it over.
After investigating, they learned that the 16-year-old girl had been reported missing by her parents in Asheville, North Carolina, on Tuesday morning; an NCIC (National Crime Information Center) check confirmed that she was a reported missing juvenile.
She told Sheriff's investigators that she had gotten with the male subject and traveled through North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and into Ohio, where the accused had relatives.
When the man's relatives realized that the female in his custody was under age and reported missing, he left Ohio traveling southbound, which is when she began attempting to get motorists attention to call 911.
Police arrested the driver, 61-year-old James Herbert Brick, at the scene. They said he had in his possession a phone containing material that "allegedly portrayed a juvenile female in a sexual manner."
He was was charged with unlawful imprisonment – first-degree; and possession of matter sex performance by a minor over the age of 12 but under age 18 – first offense.
Per NPR, the "Signal for Help" campaign was started by the Canadian Women's Foundation in 2020 — a year when Covid lockdowns trapped many at home with domestic abusers — as a way for victims to secretly call for help.
The campaign went viral across social media platforms last year — especially on TikTok.
It advises those in need to signal by closing a single fist around the thumb, palm facing outward.