A 911 caller says he alerted police to a teenager he believed was in danger because he saw the girl mouthing for help as she passed on the interstate in Kentucky last week, not because a hand signal popularized on TikTok that indicates distress.
Authorities have said that a driver called 911 after seeing the teen use the signal and that his actions led to the arrest of a child abduction suspect.
The caller, David Isaacs, 50, of Berea, Kentucky, said he phoned in after a Toyota Corolla zipped by on I-75 and he saw a girl riding in the car mouth: “Help me. Help me.”
“I didn’t recognize a gesture,” Isaacs said Tuesday. “She was mouthing ‘help me.’ She said ‘help me, help me’ twice. I think she even lip-synced ‘call 911.’ ... It looked like she had been crying. I dropped back a couple of car lengths. She did keep putting her four fingers out the window.”
The Laurel County Sheriff’s Office has said a 16-year-old girl was inside the Toyota when the driver of another vehicle, whom they did not identify, saw her using hand signals known on TikTok “to represent violence at home — I need help — domestic violence.”
The sheriff’s office said in a statement last week that the driver called 911 after he recognized the signal and saw that the teen “appeared to be in distress.”
The story quickly went viral, generating national and international headlines, after police said the witness recognized the distress signal.
The sheriff's office did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the discrepancy between its account and Isaacs’. It is unclear whether additional drivers may have called 911 to report the teen in distress.
The sheriff's office did not detail the signal. A hand gesture introduced by the Canadian Women’s Foundation last year has been adopted by many people globally as a way to discreetly seek help or indicate distress. The gesture is a hand up, palm out, with the thumb tucked, over which the fingers are then folded down.
James Herbert Brick, 61, of Cherokee, North Carolina, was arrested Thursday while driving near the Kentucky interstate when the teen was rescued.
He faces charges of kidnapping and possession of material showing a sex performance by a minor over the age of 12 but under age 18, according to the Laurel County Circuit Court clerk.
Brick had faced a charge of false imprisonment, which was increased to kidnapping at a hearing Tuesday. The case was also moved to a grand jury, court officials said.
A judge approved the prosecutor’s request to charge Brick with kidnapping after police testified that Brick threatened to kill her dog if she tried to escape.
The teen had been reported missing by her parents in Asheville, North Carolina, on Nov. 2, Laurel County Sheriff John Root said in a statement.
She told authorities that she had traveled with Brick through North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio, according to the statement.
Laurel County Sheriff’s Lt. Chris Edwards testified that the teen was visibly upset when deputies reached her and had also mouthed “send help.”
“She was physically shaking, crying,” Edwards said.
Brick was acquainted with the girl's family, Edwards said, and the teen willingly left North Carolina with him but later feared for her safety.
Brick is represented by the public defender’s office. No one with the office could immediately be reached for comment Wednesday. He remained at the Laurel County Correctional Center on $50,000 bond Wednesday afternoon, according to Laurel County online records.
Kentucky authorities on Monday released a 911 call of more than 8 minutes by a caller who identified himself as David Isaacs.
Near the beginning of the call, Isaacs tells a dispatcher: “I’ve been following this Toyota Corolla. … The female on the passenger side, brunette, motioned for help, call 911.”
Toward the end of the call, police sirens are heard as patrol vehicles swarm in.
When Isaacs saw the teen, he said, he thought of his own children, adding that by calling 911, he only did what most people would do.
“Those guys are the heroes,” Isaacs said of the officers. “I’m just glad I could see it through and make sure she got help. I feel like it was a happy ending.”
Deputy Gilbert Acciardo, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, said Monday that the 911 caller deserves a lot of praise and that authorities were looking to speak to him.
He also repeated the notion that the 911 caller sprang to action because of the TikTok signal.
“He recognized a signal that is not universally known,” Acciardo said. “We didn’t even know what the TikTok signal was. But we certainly do now.”
The FBI has joined the investigation, Acciardo said this week.
Isaacs said the fact that he did not know about the hand signal is trivial. He said it is more important that the signal will be more recognizable now because of the exposure the story got.
“I feel like it should be very helpful in the future,” he said.