Carlee Russell, 25, captured national attention on July 13, 2023, when she was reported missing. The incident occurred after she dialed 911 to report a toddler walking on the interstate, after which she seemingly vanished, raising concerns of a possible kidnapping. In response, her family and friends swiftly took to social media, sharing posts about Russell’s disappearance, prompting an outpouring of support from people across the country who reposted to spread awareness. Both local and federal law enforcement agencies joined forces, utilizing their resources to aid in the search for the nursing student.
Mysteriously, she returned to her parents home on foot after a two-day period. Initially, the public was happy to see that she was able to return home safely, but as law enforcement began to investigate the alleged kidnapping, some of the facts didn’t quite add up.
The Facts of the Case
Around 9:30 p.m., Russell placed a 911 call to report a White male toddler walking alone along the highway. She remained on the line with the 911 operator for a few minutes and then proceeded to call her sister. However, their conversation was cut short as the call abruptly ended. When the police arrived at the location, Russell was no longer present, though her car remained behind. This set off a statewide search to locate her.
Exactly 49 hours later, Russell was reported to have safely returned home with only minimal need for medical attention. The following day, she cooperated with law enforcement officials to provide insight into the circumstances surrounding her disappearance. However, little information was released to the public at that time, as authorities aimed to gather all necessary details before making any further statements.
What Happened During the Disappearance?
A press conference with Hoover police chief, Nick Derzis, was held on July 19, 2023. During the press conference, several facts about the case were revealed. The U.S. Secret Service was able to look at her recent search history and found the following searches:
- “you have to pay for an Amber Alert or search”
- “how to take money from a register without being caught”
- “Birmingham bus station”
- “one-way bus ticket from Birmingham to Nashville”
- (the movie) “Taken”
- information about Amber Alerts on her work computer
Additionally, surveillance footage from Carlee Russell’s workplace revealed that she took a robe and toilet paper. It was discovered that her car had traveled approximately 600 yards while she was on the phone with 911, precisely when she was following the toddler. Notably, there were no reports of missing children in Hoover during that particular time period.
After leaving work, she visited Target to buy some snacks. This was shortly before she called 911. The purchased items were not found in her car after she was reported missing.
Carlee Russell’s Return
Russell informed law enforcement officials that she had limited recollection of the events, but she did remember finding herself in a tractor-trailer with a man and a woman at some point. She recounted attempting to escape from the truck, but unfortunately, she was captured again shortly afterward. The individuals allegedly involved then forced her into a car and transported her to a residence. While she stated that she could not recall any instances of sexual abuse, she expressed concerns that suggestive pictures might have been taken during the ordeal.
Russell then said she was able to escape once again and ended up being close to her home. There were minor injuries reported, but they also found over $100 in her sock.
Authorities have not been able to verify Carlee Russell’s story.
On July 24, 2023, authorities released a statement provided by Russell’s attorney:
“There was no kidnapping on Thursday, July 13, 2023. My client did not see a baby on the side of the road. My client did not leave the Hoover area when she was identified as a missing person. My client did not have any help in this incident — this was a single act done by herself. My client was not with anyone or any hotel with anyone from the time she was missing. My client apologizes for her actions to this community, the volunteers who were searching for her, to the Hoover Police Department and other agencies as well and to her friends and family. We ask for your prayers for Carlee as she addresses her issues and attempts to move forward, understanding that she made a mistake in this matter.”
According to the Hoover police chief, prosecutors and police are working together in discussing possible criminal charges against Russell.
After admitting that her disappearance was a hoax, Russell was charged with two misdemeanors. The charges are for lying to police about the disappearance and the “missing child.” Russell turned herself in July 28, 2023 and bailed out shortly thereafter. Additional charges may be added later as authorities continue to investigate this case. So far, Russell faces up to a year in jail.
The general public fears that Carlee Russell’s disappearance was a hoax have been confirmed. The question of why has gone unanswered. Speculations as to her reasoning behind her alleged actions have been circulating on social media platforms, and Russell has denied authorities another interview.
The number of people who rallied around Russell and her family was unprecedented. Celebrities like Tina Knowles-Lawson joined the campaign for her safe return home. It’s important to note that Black people, particularly Black women, often don’t receive the same level of media coverage as Russell did in cases like this. The confirmation of this incident being a hoax potentially undermines the efforts to find missing Black women who genuinely need assistance and attention.