Per the Laurel County Sheriff’s Office in Kentucky, the Ahseville, North Carolina teen was first reported missing on Tuesday, Nov. 2. Just days later, a person travelling on the interstate noticed the 16-year-old girl make the gesture. They alerted the local authorities, because they recognized the hand gesture she made as a sign of distress.
“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 ‘TikTok’ to represent violence at home—I need help—domestic violence,” reads the police department’s statement released on Friday.
Police have since arrested 61-year-old James Herbert Brick, who abducted the teen and took her to Ohio before later returning to North Carolina. He supposedly returned from Ohio after his family in the state discovered the girl with him was a minor who was reported missing. She later explained she had traveled with him through Tennessee and Kentucky, too. A phone recovered from the suspect allegedly contained material that “portrayed a juvenile female in a sexual manner.”
The hand gesture was first detailed by the Canadian Women’s Foundation last year, and has since been shared globally including through TikTok and other social media or video sharing websites. It is made by holding your hand up with the palm facing another person, and then tucking the thumb into your palm and folding fingers down over your thumb.
The gesture, which is known as the “Signal For Help,” was introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic to help victims of abuse and violence safely alert others even if they’re on a video call.
“There’s ample evidence that disaster situations can lead to a surge in gender-based violence,” said the Canadian Women’s Foundation upon introducing the gesture last year. “Public health directives on home isolation might increase danger and risk for people in abusive relationships.”