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If You See This Hand Gesture While You're Driving, Call 911 Right Away

This simple, discreet hand signal saved a kidnapped teenager in a moving car.

Did you know there's a certain hand gesture that can be used to signal distress? If you know what to look for, you might rescue someone in peril—or even get help for yourself, should you ever need it. One eagle-eyed and dedicated driver spotted the gesture and was able to assist in a roadway rescue. Here's what happened in the spine-tingling case, and what to know about the potentially life-saving hand signal.

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A driver helped rescue a missing teenager after she made the hand gesture in a moving car.

Washington traffic

A missing 16-year-old girl from North Carolina communicated her distress through a hand signal she learned on the social media site TikTok, People reports. The maneuver led to her rescue, according to a press release issued by the Laurel County Sheriff's Office in Kentucky. Another driver on the road observed the gesture, recognized it as a distress signal, and called 911 to report it.

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The teen flashed the gesture representing domestic violence.

young window in a car with with the windows closed expect one covid

Per People, the 911 caller said the female passenger "appeared to be in distress" and was making the hand sign meant "to represent violence at home—I need help—domestic violence," according to the press release. The 911 dispatchers sent Laurel Sheriff's investigators to look out for the car, a silver-colored Toyota, and the driver continued to tail the vehicle and provide updates to the emergency personnel on the phone.

The girl was rescued and the driver of the car she was in has been arrested.

bumper to bumper traffic in brazil

Laurel County Sheriff's detectives and deputies caught up with the car and conducted a traffic stop. When they pulled over the Toyota, they found a teenager inside; the girl's parents had reported her missing two days earlier. They then arrested the driver, a 61-year-old man, and discovered he was carrying a phone that held photos that "portrayed a juvenile female in a sexual manner."

According to the sheriff's department (via People), "The female juvenile told Sheriff's investigators that she had gotten with the male subject and traveled through North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and into Ohio where the accused had relatives. When the male subject's relatives realized that the female in his custody was underage and reported missing, the accused left Ohio traveling southbound and the female juvenile then began attempting to get motorists [sic] attention to call 911."

The driver was charged and is being held at Laurel County Correctional Center.

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Know the hand gesture that signals domestic violence or distress.

women's funding network signal for help
Women's Funding Network

With domestic violence situations soaring during the pandemic, the Women's Funding Network launched a campaign in 2020 to help people in need silently call for help—for instance, as a way of quietly communicating the danger on a video call. They called the campaign "Signal for Help," and used it to raise awareness about the hand gestures.

The signal is made by placing one hand up with the palm facing outward. The thumb tucks in underneath the four fingers folded over it. Knowing this simple, silent gesture could save a life one day—perhaps even your own.

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Alesandra Dubin
Alesandra Dubin is a lifestyle editor and writer based in Los Angeles. Read more
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