Teen girl saved by police after using TikTok domestic violence hand signal

Officers conducted a traffic stop and a subsequent investigation revealed the teenager had been reported missing by her parents days earlier

By Bill Estep
Lexington Herald-Leader

LEXINGTON, Ky. — More charges are possible in a case involving a 16-year-old girl who used a hand signal popularized on social media to alert someone in another car that she needed help as a 61-year-old man drove her through Southern Kentucky.

Officers with the Laurel County Sheriff's Office charged the driver who had the girl, James Herbert Brick, 61, with unlawful imprisonment and possession of material showing a sexual performance by a minor.

The second charge was based on images that Brick, of Cherokee, N.C., had on his cell phone.

Officers are continuing to investigate the case and additional charges are possible, a spokesman for Sheriff John Root's office said Monday morning.

If there are additional charges they would likely come by way of a grand jury indictment, said Deputy Gilbert Acciardo.

Investigators with the sheriff's office also plan to talk with federal authorities about the potential to have them take the case, Acciardo said.

Local and state police sometimes ask federal authorities to adopt cases in part because of the potential for longer sentences in the federal court system, where there is no parole.

The parents of the girl involved in the case reported her missing in Asheville, N.C., on Nov. 2 in the morning.

On Nov. 4, Thursday, at midday, a driver going south on Interstate 75 called 9-1-1 in London and reported seeing a girl in a silver Toyota car making hand gestures he recognized from the social media platform TikTok as a request for help, according to the news release.

The Canadian Women's Foundation said it originated the gesture last year during the coronavirus pandemic as a way for women stuck at home with abusive partners to silently signal for help during video calls.

The gesture involves folding the thumb of one hand across your palm and covering it with the other four fingers.

The foundation says the gesture has spread rapidly on social media.

The driver on I-75 who spotted the girl using the hand signal followed the Toyota and gave police updates on its location.

When Brick exited at London, sheriff's officers stopped him and arrested him.

Police said the girl and Brick are acquaintances. She left North Carolina with him willingly at first, but after traveling to Ohio and then heading back south into Kentucky, she apparently began to fear for her safety at some point and started trying to get the attention of people in other cars, Acciardo said.

The girl was in the front seat with Brick, so a more obvious signal might have gotten his attention, Acciardo said.

He said it's not clear how long the girl flashed the signal before the motorist recognized it in Laurel County.

"Thank goodness somebody recognized that," Acciardo said.

The girl was still making the signal as police in unmarked cruisers stopped Brick's car, Acciardo said.

Brick was still in jail in Laurel County Monday under a $10,000 cash bond.


(c)2021 the Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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