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Carlee Russell’s parents insist she was kidnapped as police cast doubt on claims

Mystery still swirls around what happened in the two days in which she vanished

Kelly Rissman,Bevan Hurley
Friday 21 July 2023 19:36 BST
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Update on search for Carlee Russell

The parents of Carlee Russell, the 25-year-old Alabama woman who disappeared for 48 hours after reporting that she spotted a child on the side of a highway, have spoken out for the first time since their daughter returned.

“We tried to hug as best we could, but I had to stand back because she was not in a good state,” Talitha Russell told The Daily Beast earlier this week about seeing her daughter return home. “So we had to stand back and let medical professionals work with her.”

While Ms Russell has been reported safe, mystery still swirls around what happened in the two days in which she vanished.

Police have since shared their doubt about her claims, suggesting that her internet search history indicates that she may have staged her own kidnapping.

Her parents have maintained that she was “absolutely” abducted. “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,” the mother told the outlet.

“She’s having to deal with the trauma of people just making completely false allegations about her,” she added. “Carlee has given detectives her statement so that they can continue to pursue her abductor.”

Ms Russell’s boyfriend, Thomar Latrell Simmons, wrote on Facebook following his girlfriend’s return. His statement echoed the parents’ theories: “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.”

Ms Russell called 911 to report seeing a toddler next to the highway. She then called her brother’s girlfriend to say she was going to stop to check on the child. While the call stayed connected, Ms Russell stopped speaking and the girlfriend heard a scream on the other end.

Police said that traffic cameras caught Ms Russell stopping at the side of the road, but the footage did not show the child. There were also no reports of any missing child, according to the police.

When officers arrived on the scene, they found Ms Russell’s car – which was running – and a number of her belongings. But they did not see her or the toddler, Ms Russell’s mother previously said.

Ms Russell made a series of suspicious internet searches in the days before she claimed to have been abducted, Alabama authorities revealed at a press conference on Wednesday.

A forensic analysis of Ms Russell’s cell phone, work and home computers found she looked up information about the movie Taken, Amber Alerts, booking a bus ticket from Birmingham to Nashville and “how to take money from a register without being caught”, Hoover Police Department Nicholas Derzis told reporters.

The searches shed light on the 25-year-old’s mindset leading up to when she claimed to have been kidnapped after seeing a toddler walking along the side of Interstate 459 on 13 July, Mr Derzis said.

Police had been unable to verify Ms Russell’s allegations, and she has since refused to be interviewed, he added.

According to authorities, Ms Russell left work at the Woodhouse Spa in the Summit luxury shopping mall in Birmingham at about 8.20pm on 13 July.

She called 911 at 9.34pm that night to report seeing a toddler wandering on the side of Interstate 459.

When police officers arrived, they found her red Mercedes still running and her belongings, including a wig, phone, Apple Watch and purse, but no sign of her or the toddler.

An analysis of Ms Russell’s phone found that she drove for 600 yards, or six football fields, while on the 911 call claiming she was observing a toddler, Mr Derzis said.

Ms Russell turned up on foot at her parents’ home in Hoover 49 hours later, and claimed she had been kidnapped and barely survived.

At Wednesday’s press conference, Mr Derzis revealed that Ms Russell was seen taking items from Woodhouse Spa before leaving work.

Detectives conducted a brief interview with Ms Russell in hospital, where she claimed to have been abducted by a man with orange hair and a bald spot “who came out of the trees”.

She claimed the man picked her up and forced her into a car, and the next thing she remembered she was in the trailer of an 18-wheeler semi, Mr Derzis said.

Ms Russell told police that she heard a woman and a baby in the semi, but didn’t see them.

She claimed to have escaped from the trailer, before being recaptured and taken to a house, where her alleged captors forced her to undress and pose for photographs.

She told detectives she was placed in a car, and was able to escape and flee into woods and came out near her home.

Detectives noted she had a minor injury in her lip, and a torn shirt. They also found $107 in cash tucked in her right sock.

“Out of respect for Carlee and her family, detectives did not press for additional information in this interview, and made plans to speak with her in detail after giving her time to rest,” Mr Derzis said.

The Secret Service analysed her phone and computers, and found internet searches that are “very relevant to this case,” Mr Derzis said.

On July 11, Ms Russell searched: “Do you have to pay for amber alert or search”.

On the day of her alleged abduction, she searched “how to take money from a register without being caught”. She also searched for a one-way bus ticket from Birmingham to Nashville departing that day, Mr Derzis said.

She also searched for Taken, a 2008 thriller about an abduction starring Liam Neeson.

“There were other searches on Carlee’s phone that appear to shed some light on her mindset, but out of respect to her privacy we will not be releasing the content of those searches at this time,” the police chief said.

“We’ve asked to interview Carlee a second time, but we have not been granted that request. As you can see there are many questions left to be answered, but only Carlee can provide those answers.

“What we can say is that we’ve been unable to verify most of Carlee’s initial statement made to investigators, and we have no reason to believe that there is no threat to public safety.”

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