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Carlee Russell drove for 600 yards along an interstate while telling 911 she was following toddler, police say

‘It’s very hard for me to understand,’ Hoover Police Department chief Nicholas Derzis said during a press conference on Wednesday

Bevan Hurley
Thursday 20 July 2023 13:04 BST
Carlee Russell: Full police press conference

Carlee Russell drove 600 yards (548m) along an Alabama interstate while on the phone to a 911 operator claiming that she was following a lost toddler, authorities have revealed.

The 25-year-old told detectives she was abducted by a man with “orange hair” who appeared from the side of Interstate 459 after stopping to help a “baby boy in a diaper” just after 9.30pm on 13 July.

She turned up on foot at her parent’s home in Hoover two days later with $107 tucked in her right sock, and claimed she had barely survived after being forced to strip naked before escaping from her kidnappers.

Data from Ms Russell’s cellphone showed she had driven the length of six football fields while talking to police dispatch, an incredulous Hoover Police Department chief Nicholas Derzis said during a press conference on Wednesday.

“To think that a toddler, barefoot, that could be three or four years old is going to travel six football fields without getting on the roadway, without crying... it’s very hard for me to understand,” Mr Derzis said.

Mr Derzis said an exhaustive investigation involving the Secret Service and FBI had failed to find any trace of a missing toddler.

“Carlee’s 911 call remains the only report of a child on the interstate, despite numerous vehicles passing through the area at that time,” he said.

“We don’t see anyone on the interstate other than her car, and then someone getting out of her driver’s side.

“It’s a lot of work. It is a little frustrating to think that all this has been done and we can’t find anything out.”

Mr Derzis added that suspicious internet searches made by Ms Russell in the days leading up to her disappearance shed light on her state of mind.

Ms Russell looked up information about the 2008 Liam Neeson movie Taken, Amber Alerts, booking a bus ticket from Birmingham to Nashville and “how to take money from a register without being caught”, a forensic analysis of her phone and computers had revealed.

“I do think it’s highly unusual the day that someone gets kidnapped the day that seven, eight hours before that they are searching the internet googling the movie Taken about an abduction,” he said.

“I find that very strange.”

Carlee Russell was reported missing after a call to 911 to report a toddler was found on the side of an Alabama highway (Hoover Police Department)

Detectives had briefly interviewed Ms Russell as she was being treated in hospital, where she laid out an extraordinary account of her missing 49 hours.

She said the man with orange hair and a bald spot picked her up and she screamed, forced her into a car, and the next thing she remembers she was in at 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.

Ms Russell has since refused follow-up interviews with police, Mr Derzis said.

“As you can see there are many questions left to be answered, but only Carlee can provide those answers.”

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