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Alabama police find ‘no evidence’ Carlee Russell was trying to help toddler on highway when she disappeared

Hoover Police also revealed surveillance video captured the moment Russell returned home

Rachel Sharp
Thursday 20 July 2023 11:44 BST
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Carlee Russell's mom speaks up

Investigators in Alabama have found “no evidence” that Carlee Russell was trying to help a toddler walking along a highway at the time of her mysterious disappearance, it has been revealed.

Nursing student Ms Russell, 25, vanished without a trace from the side of Interstate 459 in Hoover on the night of 13 July – just moments after she called 911 saying she had spotted a toddler alone on the road.

When officers arrived on the scene, they found Ms Russell’s car still running and her cellphone and wig close by, but no sign of the 25-year-old.

A huge search operation was launched to try to track down the missing woman, with her family begging the public to come forward with any information.

Then, two days later on the night of 15 July, Hoover Police received a 911 call saying that Ms Russell had suddenly returned home on foot.

In the days since, few details have emerged about what happened to the 25-year-old and where she was located for the roughly 49 hours that she was missing – as her family insisted that she had been the victim of a kidnapping.

But now, Hoover Police have cast doubts on one of the key aspects of the case – saying that there is no evidence that there was ever a toddler walking along the highway that night.

Authorities also released other new details about the case including that Ms Russell visited a Target store to buy snacks just before her disappearance and that they have obtained surveillance footage of the moment she returned home.

On the night she disappeared, Hoover police said that the 25-year-old left her workplace and ordered food from nearby restaurant The Colonnade.

After stopping by The Colonnade, she went to the Target on Highway 280 and bought some snacks, police said.

These items were not found inside her abandoned vehicle along the highway nor were they found with her cellphone and wig at the scene of her disappearance.

Police said that the investigation had uncovered no evidence of a toddler walking down the interstate and had not received any additional calls about a wandering child – despite surveillance footage capturing numerous other vehicles passing through the area around that time.

A 911 call revealed Carlee Russell was ‘unresponsive but breathing’ when she returned to her home in Hoover, Alabama (Hoover Police Department)

New details were also released about the moment Ms Russell suddenly returned home to the house she shares with her parents.

Hoover Police said that surveillance footage – which has not been released to the public – shows her walking alone down the sidewalk to the home. It is not clear what the footage shows or how it is relevant to the investigation.

Fire department radio traffic previously revealed that medics were dispatched to the home to a 911 call for an “unresponsive but breathing” individual.

Hoover Police have now said that the term “unresponsive but breathing” came from the 911 caller and that, when emergency services responded to the scene, they found Ms Russell “conscious and speaking”.

She was taken to hospital for treatment and was later released.

Hoover police said on Tuesday that they have so far spoken with Ms Russell only “briefly” on her return home and that – three days on – they are still waiting “for her to be made available to obtain a more detailed statement” about what happened to her in the 49 hours she was missing.

Numerous pieces of evidence are being evaluated as part of the investigation, police said, adding that “those items are key in the process of determining exactly what took place in the approximately 49 hours Carlee was missing, but also what took place prior to her disappearance”.

A police press conference has been scheduled for Wednesday afternoon to give a more detailed update on the mysterious case.

This latest update has offered more questions than answers as to what happened to Ms Russell in the 49 hours between her disappearance and reemergence.

Her parents have said that their daughter was “absolutely” abducted and that she had to “fight for her life” during that two-day period.

“There were moments when she physically had to fight for her life, and there were moments when she had to mentally fight for her life,” her mother Talitha Russell told The Daily Beast.

“She’s having to deal with the trauma of people just making completely false allegations about her.

“Carlee has given detectives her statement so that they can continue to pursue her abductor.”

She added of her reappearance: “We tried to hug as best we could, but I had to stand back because she was not in a good state. So we had to stand back and let medical professionals work with her.”

Ms Russell’s boyfriend Thomar Latrell Simmons gave a similar account of what happened to Ms Russell in a Facebook post.

“She was literally fighting for her life for 48 hours, so until she’s physically & mentally stable again she is not able to give any updates or whereabouts on her kidnapper at this very moment,” he wrote.

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