Missing Teen Found After Using TikTok Hand Gesture Signaling She Was In Danger


Sierra Blaser, Reporter

On Nov. 4th, 61-year-old James Herbert Brick was arrested for child pornography and unlawful imprisonment after a teen girl in his vehicle was seen using an emergency hand gesture popularized by social media platform TikTok.

The 16-year-old had been reported missing by her parents two days previous to being saved. The girl told authorities that she had traveled with Brick though North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio, where Brick had family. The two left once his family had learned of the situation Brick was involved in. As they traveled though southern Ohio, the young woman began flashing the signal at surrounding cars, and luckily one good Samaritan recognized what she meant. “I’ve been following this Toyota Corolla from Madison County. The female in the passenger’s side, brunet, is motioning for help, call 911,” reported the caller. While the police didn’t recognize the sign themselves, they still intercepted the car and saw the young woman use the hand signal towards them. “I don’t think any of us realized what that was,” said Officer Acciardo. “But we certainly do now.” Investigators also found crude photos and videos of the young girl on Brick’s phone. He’s now being held at the Laurel Country Correctional Center on a $10,000 cash bond.

The hand gesture has been the feature of dozens of TikTok and YouTube videos with millions of views. Organizations such as the World Bank and the Women’s Funding Network have been promoting it since April of 2020. It gained popularity during the Covid-19 lockdown as a way for victims to signal that they needed help if they were trapped at home with their abuser. The “Signal for Help” starts with a palm facing out with your thumb tucked in. Then, you trap your thumb with your remaining fingers. It’s a discrete way for people to ask for help without verbalizing it.

Organizations like The Canadian Women’s foundation advise that those who see the signal shouldn’t necessarily call authorities right away, but instead should try to reach out safely to the person using it. The signal is not a part of American Sign Language, so it relies on general awareness for the meaning to get across. “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,” said Andrea Gunraj, the Vice President of public engagement for the Canadian’s Woman’s Foundation. Many things went right in this situation, and for these situations to continue going right it’s important for this call for help to be recognized by others.