Carlethia “Carlee” Nichole Russell, a 25-year-old nursing student from Alabama, went missing for two days and claimed to have been abducted, but police have not found any evidence to support her statement. Hoover Police Chief Nick Derzis stated that investigators have been unable to verify most of Russell’s account of being captured.
Before her disappearance, Russell made several concerning online searches, including inquiries about Amber Alerts, stealing from cash registers, and the movie “Taken,” which revolves around the abduction of a woman. She also searched for information related to the Birmingham bus station and bus tickets to Nashville.
On Thursday night, Russell called 911 to report seeing a toddler on an interstate in Alabama. She vanished shortly after and returned home two days later, gaining national attention. Russell provided a brief statement to the police upon her return, but details were not pressed due to respect for her and her family.
Hoover Police Department confirmed that they have not found any evidence of a child on the highway where Russell claimed to have seen the toddler. Despite multiple vehicles passing through the area that night, no other 911 calls were made regarding a child on Interstate 459.
According to Derzis, Russell continued driving in her car for about 600 yards, equivalent to the length of six football fields, while on the phone with the dispatcher about the toddler. She described a child wearing a white shirt and a diaper who was not wearing shoes. Derzis expressed skepticism about the possibility of a barefoot toddler traveling such a distance without crying or getting in the roadway.
The police played audio from Russell’s 911 call, where she mentioned following the child in her car and promised to keep an eye on him until the authorities arrived. After ending the call, Russell spoke with a relative, but contact with her was lost during the conversation. The relative then alerted the police, stating that they heard Russell scream.
Responding officers arrived within five minutes but found Russell’s car, cellphone, wig, and purse on the scene. Her Apple Watch was discovered inside her bag. Russell briefly spoke with the police after returning home on Saturday night but has not been available for another interview since.
According to Russell’s account, a man emerged from the woods and informed her that he was checking on the child. She claimed that the man then forced her over a fence and into a car. Russell recollected being in the trailer of a truck with the man, who had orange hair, and a woman, hearing a baby crying. She stated that she managed to escape but was recaptured, blindfolded, and placed in another vehicle. However, she mentioned not being tied up, as her alleged captors did not want to leave marks on her wrists.
Russell alleged that she was taken to a house, undressed, and believed that photos were taken of her. The next day, she claimed that the woman offered her cheese crackers and played with her hair. Russell eventually escaped the vehicle while in the West Hoover area and ran through the woods to reach home. When the police arrived, she had a minor injury on her lip and a tear in her shirt. She had over $100 in cash in her right sock.
Derzis mentioned speaking with Russell’s parents before the press conference and stated that they believe her account. However, he refrained from confirming whether a crime had been committed. He assured the public that there did not appear to be a threat to the community.
During the investigation, the police constructed a timeline of events leading up to Russell’s disappearance. She left her workplace in Birmingham around 8:20 p.m., carrying a bathrobe, a roll of toilet paper, and other concealed items. Surveillance footage showed her picking up food from a nearby business at The Colonnade shopping mall and shopping at a Target on Highway 280 for granola bars and Cheez-Its. She stayed in the parking lot until 9:21 p.m.
At 9:34 p.m., Russell dialed 911 to report the toddler on the highway and then called a relative. The police reviewed traffic camera footage from the alleged abduction location, which only showed Russell’s car and an individual exiting from the driver’s side. The video has been passed to the FBI for enhancement.
The snacks and items Russell took with her when leaving work were not found in her car or the surrounding area. Derzis emphasized that the investigation is ongoing, aiming to gather evidence accounting for the 49 hours that Russell was missing.