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Mother of kidnapped and murdered Alabama teen speaks out after she helped in search for Carlee Russell

‘A lot of people put their heart and soul into Carlee coming home, and to me, that is all that matters,’ Angela Harris says

Andrea Blanco
Thursday 20 July 2023 17:40 BST
Police cast doubt on Carlee Russell’s story

The mother of slain teen Aniah Blanchard has sent a dire message in the wake of an exhaustive investigation by Alabama authorities into the mysterious circumstances in which Carlee Russell allegedly went missing.

Ms Russell’s disappearance has stumped law enforcement and the public alike after the 25-year-old’s vehicle was found in the stretch of a highway following a 911 call she made reporting a stranded toddler. Ms Russell inexplicably reappeared at her parents’ home in Hoover 49 hours later, claiming she had been kidnapped and barely managed to escape her captors.

Hoover police and the FBI are leading the investigation, with detectives noting that no evidence of a toddler walking along the highway has been found. Ms Russell’s online searches prior to going missing — including the 2008 film Taken, Amber alerts, and “how to take money from a register without being caught” — have also cast doubt on her claims, police said during a press conference earlier this week.

The circumstances in which the alleged kidnapping unfolded initially prompted speculation that a new ruse involving children was being used by kidnappers to lure in victims, but authorities have emphasized there is currently no evidence of such a threat. Angela Harris, who created a nonprofit organization to promote safety education after her 19-year-old daughter Aniah was murdered in 2019, helped in the search for Ms Russell and has now called for the public to remain patient — and cautious — as an investigation is underway.

“People want to know the truth, they need to know if there’s a predator out there ... Y’all, there are predators out there that you need to beware of. Were’ not [just] talking about the Carlee situation ... just in general, in life,” Ms Russell said in a TikTok video posted on Tuesday. “There are predators out there, everywhere, it doesn’t matter. Please get that into your head. It can happen to anybody, anywhere, anytime.”

Ms Harris said she received a call from Ms Russell’s family early on Friday and she didn’t hesitate to join the search for the missing young woman.

“Put yourself in the shoes of having a missing child. No matter what, it is a miracle that for two days your child is missing and then you have your child back,” Ms Harris said while fighting tears. “That is so overwhelming, I can’t even tell you how I broke down. And I’m so thankful no matter what, that she is alive. A lot of people put their heart and soul into Carlee coming home, and to me, that is all that matters.”

Ms Harris’ daughter was a student at Alabama’s Southern Union State Community College when she was reported missing on 24 October 2019. Her body was found a month later in Macon County and suspect Ibraheem Yazeed has been charged with her murder. He pleaded not guilty in May.

Ms Harris said that “hundreds of people,” including from her charity Aniah’s Heart, had been involved in the frantic search for Ms Russell.

Aniah Blanchard, a 19-year-old student in Alabama, was reported missing on 24 October 2019. Her body was found a month later in Macon County and suspect Ibraheem Yazeed has been charged with her murder (Auburn Police Department)

“We did everything that we were supposed to do. That’s exactly what we did, everything the right way. I’m not going to speak about anything that has to do with what happened, that will come out later,” she said. “As a mom who has lost her child to kidnapping and murder, I can’t even tell you, I can’t explain to you what it feels like to have a missing child. I’m just glad that Carlee is alive.”

While Ms Russell has been reported safe, questions remain as to what happened in the two days that she was missing.

Her parents have maintained that Ms Russell was 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,” Ms Russell’s mother Talitha Russell told The Daily Beast before the information released by police transpired. “She’s having to deal with the trauma of people just making completely false allegations about her.”

At a press conference on Wednesday, Hoover Police Department Nicholas Derzis revealed that Ms Russell searched for a one-way bus ticket from Birmingham to Nashville on the day of her abduction.

Carlee Russell vanished after she reported seeing a toddler walking on the side of an Alabama highway (Hoover Police Department)

During an interview with police while she remained in the hospital, Ms Russel alleged that she got out of her vehicle when she saw a barefoot toddler walking in a field next to the highway. A man with orange hair and a bald spot then “came out of the trees” and abducted her, she claimed.

Ms Russell told police that she heard a woman and a baby inside the trailer of an 18-wheeler semi, before making a brief escape. She said she was then recaptured and taken to a house, where her alleged captors forced her to undress and pose for photographs.

She allegedly escaped for a second time while she was being forced inside a car and fled to the woods and finally turned up at her parent’s home.

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”.

“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. “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.”

The department said it had requested a second interview with Ms Russell that has yet to be granted.

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