A missing North Carolina teen used a hand signal circulating on TikTok to call for help from a stranger, sticking her palm out a car’s open window and folding down her fingers in a gesture intended to communicate distress. James Herbert Brick, 61, was driving from Ohio through Kentucky, and thought his passenger was just waving at passersby. But someone in another car recognized the motion, and after following Brick’s vehicle for seven miles, they reported what they had seen to 911. When police tracked down the car, they saw the signal too and pulled Brick over. Turns out, the 16-year-old’s parents had reported her missing two days before.
The gesture in question, a pandemic tool for people in abusive domestic situations to silently tip off outsiders during video calls, comes from the Canadian Women’s Foundation. The idea is to position a flattened palm toward the camera, folding in the thumb and forming a fist over it. The 911 caller recognized the gesture — which, per the New York Times, “does not correspond to anything in American Sign Language” — from TikTok, which appears to be where the teen learned it.
Speaking to the Times, Andrea Gunraj, the Canadian Women’s Foundation’s vice-president of public engagement, said, “It is a relief to hear that somebody was able to use the signal in a very dangerous situation, and that somebody knew how to respond.” According to the Laurel County Sheriff’s Office, Brick’s phone contained pornographic images of a child — he has been arrested and charged for possession of the photos and for unlawful imprisonment. The sheriff’s public-affairs officer, Gilbert Acciardo, said Brick and the teen were “acquaintances” and that he took her from North Carolina through Tennessee and Kentucky to Ohio. Brick reportedly had family there but left after they learned the girl he had brought with him was a missing person and a minor. She started gesturing out the window as they drove south and signaled to deputies when they stopped Brick. “I don’t think any of us realized what that was,” Acciardo told the Times. “But we certainly do now.”