Police Say They Can’t Verify Carlee Russell’s Abduction Claim

[CBS] Carlethia “Carlee” Nichole Russell, a 25-year-old nursing student who went missing for two days, told police she’d been abducted, but police have not found any evidence of a crime, officials in Alabama said Wednesday. 

Investigators have not been able to verify most of Russell’s statement about being captured, Hoover Police Chief Nick Derzis said. Police said that, prior to her disappearance, Russell made several “very strange” online searches, including whether you have to pay for Amber Alerts, how to take money from a cash register without getting caught, and the movie “Taken,” which is about a woman who is abducted and the ensuing quest to save her from her kidnappers.

There were also searches related to the Birmingham bus station and bus tickets from Birmingham to Nashville.

Russell vanished Thursday night after calling 911 to report spotting a toddler on an interstate in Alabama. Russell returned home two days later and the incident gained national attention. She gave a brief statement to police when she returned home, but officers did not press for details out of respect for Russell and her family.

“We’ve asked to interview Carlee a second time but have not been granted that request,” Derzis said. “There are many questions left to be answered, but only Carlee can provide those answers.”

Investigators have not found any evidence of a child on the highway, the Hoover Police Department said Wednesday. The department never received any other 911 calls about a toddler on Interstate 459, even though multiple vehicles passed through the area on Thursday night.

While she was on the phone with a dispatcher about the toddler, Russell traveled in her car about 600 yards, the distance of about six football fields, Derzis said. She told the dispatcher there was a child wearing a white shirt and a diaper on the highway. Russell said that, as best as she could tell, he was not wearing shoes.

“Six football fields, to think that a toddler, barefoot, that could be 3 or 4 years old, could travel six football fields without getting in the roadway, without crying, it’s very hard for me to understand,” Derzis said. 

Police on Wednesday played audio from Russell’s 911 call, during which she said she was in her car following the child. Russell said in the call she would keep an eye on the boy until police arrived. 

She hung up with the dispatcher and got on a call with a relative. The family member “lost contact with” Russell during the call, “but the line remained open,” Hoover Police Lt. Daniel Lowe said in a Friday news conference.

Russell’s mother then called police and said Russell had been on the phone with a relative and that relative heard Russell scream. 

Hoover officers arrived on scene within five minutes of being dispatched, police said. Russell was gone, but officers found her car, cellphone, wig and purse. Her Apple Watch was in the bag. 

After returning home Saturday night, Russell spoke briefly with police, but they have not been able to interview her again in the days since. 

Russell told police a man had come out of the woods and mumbled that he was checking on the child, Derzis said. She told officers the man then picked her up and forced her over a fence and into a car. 

Russell said the next thing she remembers is being in the trailer of a truck with the man, who she said had orange hair, and a woman. She also said could hear a baby crying. 

Russell told police she escaped, but was recaptured and put into a car and blindfolded. She said she wasn’t tied up, adding that her alleged captors said they didn’t want to leave impressions on her wrists. 

Russell said she was then taken to a house, where she was undressed. She said she believes that photos were taken of her. The next day, she said, the woman fed her cheese crackers and played with her hair. 

Russell said at some point she was put back into a vehicle. She claims she was able to escape while it was in the West Hoover area and ran through the woods to get home. When police arrived, she had a small injury to her lip and a tear in her shirt. There was more than $100 in cash in her right sock. 

Derzis said he thinks Russell’s parents believe what Russell has told them and that he spoke with them before Wednesday’s press conference to tell them what he’d be sharing with the public. 

When asked if he’d say if a crime had been committed, Derzis said no.

“I wouldn’t say I’m frustrated,” Derzis said. “I’m very happy Carlee’s home and that’s the main ingredient here.”

He said there’s no reason to believe there’s a threat to the community.

During the search, police worked to build a timeline of events leading up to Russell’s disappearance. 

“We pretty much know exactly what took place from the time she left work until the 911 call,” Derzis said.

She departed her workplace at a business in Birmingham, about 10 miles from Hoover, around 8:20 p.m. local time on Thursday, officials said. Surveillance video shows her leaving her workplace with a bath robe, a roll of toilet paper and other items, all of which police said she kept “concealed.”

Russell then ordered food from a nearby business at The Colonnade shopping mall and picked it up. She stopped at a Target on Highway 280 to buy some granola bars and Cheez-Its. She stayed in the parking lot until 9:21 p.m. 

At 9:34 p.m., she called 911 to report a toddler on the highway, saying she’d stopped to check on the boy, police said. The call ended quickly and Russell then called a relative. 

Police have reviewed traffic camera footage from the area at the time of the alleged abduction.

“We don’t see anybody on the interstate other than her car and then someone getting out of her driver side,” Derzis said. 

Police sent the video to the FBI and asked the agency for help enhancing the footage. 

The snacks and the items Russell took with her when she left work were not in her car when police arrived at the scene. They were also not found anywhere in the area. 

“This investigation is not over,” Derzis said. “We’re still working this case and we’re working this case until we uncover every piece of evidence that helps us account for the 49 hours that Carlee Russell was missing.”

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