(KRON) — A 16-year-old North Carolina girl quietly signaled to strangers that she was being held against her will by using hand gestures she learned from the social media platform TikTok, according to investigators.
Kentucky sheriff’s detectives arrested James Herbert Brick, 61, of Cherokee, North Carolina, on charges of unlawful imprisonment and possessing pornographic images of a minor.
The incident happened on Nov. 4 on a Kentucky highway. A motorist noticed a girl sitting inside Brick’s silver Toyota holding up her hand with her palm out.
The girl tucked her thumb in, and closed her fingers around her thumb, symbolizing trapping the thumb.
The hand gesture was created by the Canadian Women’s Foundation for someone who is at-risk of domestic violence. It spread largely through TikTok in the past year.
The driver, “noticed a female passenger in the vehicle making hand gestures that are known on … TikTok to represent violence at home –- I need help –- domestic violence,” the Laurel County Sheriff’s Office wrote.
Laurel County Sheriff John Root said the girl was classified as a missing juvenile. Her parents had reported her disappearance days earlier in Asheville, North Carolina.
The motorist immediately called 911, told emergency dispatchers that a girl needed help, and followed Brick’s Toyota for several miles until sheriff’s detectives reached the area.
Detectives pulled the Toyota over and questioned Brick.
“It was learned through investigation that the female passenger was a reported missing juvenile,” the Sheriff’s Office wrote.
Investigators said they found images of the girl on Brick’s cellphone portraying her in a “sexual manner.”
The girl told investigators that the man had driven her from North Carolina, to Tennessee, to Kentucky, and to Ohio. The man had family members in Ohio.
“When (Brick’s) relatives realized that the female was in his custody, was underage, and reported missing, (he) left Ohio,” the Sheriff’s Office wrote.
When they were traveling through Kentucky, the girl’s hand signals were noticed by the motorist.
The girl and Brick were “acquaintances” but not related, according to a county spokesperson.
The Canadian Women’s Foundation wrote, “Isolation can increase the risk of domestic violence. If this is the case for you, use this hand signal on a video call to show you need help.”
The foundation posted an example on YouTube below: