Missing teen girl rescued after using hand signal learned on TikTok

The Women's Funding Network created the sign as a lifeline for those trapped at home with abusers during the pandemic.

Leslie Katz Former Culture Editor
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Leslie Katz
2 min read
Women's Funding Network

A teenage girl reported missing in North Carolina has been rescued after using a simple hand signal learned on TikTok that indicates distress. The single-hand gesture is made by putting a hand up with the palm facing outward and tucking the thumb in with the four fingers facing up. The four fingers then close to "trap" the thumb.

A driver called 911 after observing the 16-year-old girl trying to get motorists' attention with the signal, according to the sheriff's office in Laurel County, Kentucky. 

"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 sheriff's office said in a statement. "The complainant advised 911 that the female appeared to be in distress."

TikTok didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. 

After Laurel County 911 got the call on Thursday, operators dispatched officers to a highway exit, where they conducted a traffic stop on the car carrying the teenage passenger. They discovered the girl's parents had reported her missing from Asheville, North Carolina, on Tuesday. 

Officers arrested 61-year-old James Herbert Brick, who was charged with first-degree unlawful imprisonment. According to the Laurel County's sheriff's office, deputies found a phone in Brick's possession that allegedly portrayed a girl in a sexual manner. Brick, who's from Cherokee, North Carolina, was also charged with "possession of matter sex performance by a minor over the age of 12 but under age 18," according to the sheriff's office.   

The Women's Funding Network philanthropic alliance launched the hand signal in April 2020 to help those experiencing gender-based violence during pandemic stay-at-home orders. "The program will assist survivors of intimate partner violence who may be connecting with friends, family and colleagues via video chats and meetings," the WFN said at the time.

The rescued teenager told sheriff's investigators "she had gotten with the male subject and traveled through North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and into Ohio where the accused had relatives. When the male subject's relatives realized that the female in his custody was under age and reported missing, the accused left Ohio traveling southbound and the female juvenile then began attempting to get motorists' attention to call 911."

It worked.