When a Kentucky sheriff’s department announced the capture of a suspected kidnapper, they credited the rescue and arrest to something new: A simple hand gesture that went viral on TikTok.
In a Nov. 5 Facebook post, the Laurel County Sheriff’s Office described the incident. A driver on a Kentucky interstate noticed a girl making the gesture in another car — a raised hand, followed by the thumb across the palm, and completed by the fingers closing over the thumb to make a loose fist.
The driver connected the gesture to videos seen on TikTok and called 911, updating the dispatcher on the car’s location as they followed.
When the car pulled over, the sheriffs discovered a 16-year-old girl who’d been reported missing in North Carolina. The car’s driver was a 61-year-old man, also from North Carolina, who was later charged with first-degree unlawful imprisonment and other crimes.
That silent hand gesture just might have saved the girl’s life. It’s called the “Signal for Help,” and it was developed as an easy, quiet way for a person in a dangerous situation to alert others.
The Canadian Women’s Foundation shared the signal near the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Knowing many folks would be stuck at home and using video calls to keep in touch, the signal is a deliberately silent and simple way to let someone know you are not safe.
Here’s a demonstration provided by the CWF:
In recent months, TikTok videos about the signal proliferated, some with millions of views. The signal for help is spreading!
The Canadian Women’s Foundation notes that if you spot a person using it, proceed carefully. If possible, reach out privately via phone and try to ask “yes” or “no” questions, like “Do you need me to call 911?” or “Should I look for services that can help and call you back?”
The idea is to keep things as discreet and untraceable as possible, in case an abuser is tracking conversations.
However, if the person seems to be in immediate danger — like the girl in Kentucky — don’t hesitate to call 911.
I’ll be teaching this one to my kids, just in case.
This story originally appeared on Simplemost. Checkout Simplemost for additional stories.