Sean Neumann, People, July 20, 2023
Alabama police on Wednesday cast doubt on a nursing student who claimed she was abducted by a strange couple after stopping her car along I-495 last Thursday to check on a toddler she said she saw walking alone.
Carlee Russell, a 25-year-old nursing student, mysteriously vanished for 49 hours, leading state and federal investigators on a statewide search that ended after she reappeared back at her parents’ house late Saturday night.
Local police didn’t say Russell’s alleged kidnapping was a hoax, but called her behavior and internet search activity in the days leading up to her disappearance “strange,” adding that police haven’t been granted a follow-up interview with her about the incident.
“She’s not ready to talk, is what we’ve been told,” Hoover police chief Nick Derzis told reporters at a press conference.
Derzis said investigators found that prior to her disappearance, Russell had searched for whether or not you “have to pay for an Amber Alert” and what the maximum age for an Amber Alert is.
Derzis also said Russell searched for a one-way bus ticket from Birmingham, Ala. to Nashville, Tenn., scheduled for the night she vanished. She also searched for the movie Taken, and looked up the phrase “how to take money from a register without being caught.”
Before leaving work and getting on the highway where she first called 911, police say Russell left work with a bath robe and toilet paper. She then stopped at Target to buy Cheez-Its and granola bars, which were not found at the scene of her disappearance with her other belongings.
During her only interview with police, Russell said she was abducted. According to Derzis, Russell told police she was checking in on the alleged toddler when she said a white man with orange hair “came out of the trees” and grabbed her. Russell claimed the man picked her up, made her climb over the fence alongside the highway, and made her get into an 18-wheeler.
Russell claimed there was also a woman with the man, but she didn’t her because Russell says she was blindfolded. She once escaped the 18-wheeler but was wrangled back into the truck, she told police. She said she was not bound because her kidnappers said they “did not want to leave impressions on her wrist.”
Russell claims she was taken to a house, forced to undress, and had pictures taken of her, though she told investigators the two alleged kidnappers didn’t physically assault her. During her alleged kidnapping, Russell said she could hear a baby crying.
“At some point, she was put back in a vehicle, she claims [she] was able to escape while it was in the west Hoover area,” Derzis said, explaining Russell’s recollection. “She told detectives she ran through lots of woods until she came out near her residence.”
Russell first vanished late Thursday after making a 911 call saying she spotted a toddler wearing a diaper walking alone alongside I-495.
However, police said in a news release late Tuesday night that investigators never found evidence of a missing child walking alone next to the highway.
A statewide search ensued for the next 49 hours. Investigators briefly thought they’d found Russell when they responded to a call at a local Red Roof Inn motel, where several family members arrived saying they had received a phone call from Russell saying she was there. However, she was not when police arrived.
Russell later reappeared on foot at the family’s home, roughly two miles from the motel.