Everything we know so far on Carlee Russell

Saturday will mark one week since nursing student Carleitha "Carlee" Russell returned to the home in Hoover, Alabama, she shares with her parents after an alleged abduction.

This Saturday, July 22, will mark one week since Carleitha “Carlee” Russell, a 25-year-old nursing student, returned to the home in Hoover, Alabama, she shares with her parents. For 49 hours, Russell had been unaccounted for following her alleged abduction along Interstate 459 on Thursday.

Here’s what we know so far:

Russell, driving on I-459 at the time, contacted 911 just after 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 13, to report seeing a toddler in a diaper roaming down the side of the road near Hoover, just south of Birmingham. She had just wrapped up a shift at work and grabbed dinner for herself and her mother.

Carlethia “Carlee” Nichole Russell timeline
Carlethia “Carlee” Russell returned home on Saturday, July 15, after being missing for just over 48 hours. (Photo: Hoover Police Department)

Law enforcement officials said Russell phoned a relative who “lost contact” with her during the call after she dialed 911, but the line remained open. The family member reported hearing her scream.

Responding police said they had not seen Russell or a child on the scene, and there had been no other reports of a similar occurrence.

On Friday, July 14, police released traffic camera footage that showed Russell stopping, getting out of her red Mercedes and walking around the back of the car to the passenger side. However, three minutes later, when police arrived, she had vanished.

Police said Russell returned home alone on foot around 10:45 p.m. on Saturday, July 15. Officers and medical personnel responded and transported Russell to a UAB Hospital, where she was evaluated and discharged.

Sharing her account of what happened, Russell told investigators a man emerged from the woods that night and mumbled that he was checking on the child. She claimed the man pushed her over a fence and into a car.

The next thing Russell recalled, she said, was being in a truck trailer with the man, who she claimed had orange hair and was with a woman. She also alleged to have heard a baby sobbing. 

Russell told police she escaped yet was recaptured and taken into a car while wearing a blindfold. From there, the man and woman allegedly escorted her to a home, undressed her and proceeded to photograph her nude.

Russell alleged the woman fed her cheese crackers and played with her hair the following day.

Russell claimed she was eventually placed back inside a vehicle. She said she escaped in the West Hoover area and, from there, raced through the woods to get home. 

In an exclusive interview with NBC’s “Today” on Tuesday, Russell’s parents discussed their daughter’s absence and recalled waiting in agony as police conducted an urgent search. They claimed their daughter was not in a good state when she returned home.

Russell’s mother, Talitha Russell, stated they received numerous calls and texts from people who “maliciously lied to us” and said they knew what happened to their daughter. “I just didn’t know people could be so evil,” she said.

During the interview, Talitha Russell said her daughter was dealing with the trauma of people bringing false allegations against her. “There were moments when she physically had to fight for her life,” she said, “and there were moments when she had to mentally fight for her life.”

In response to whether or not she believed an abductor was still out there, Talitha Russell said, “Absolutely.”

Hoover Police Chief Nick Derzis stated during a press conference on Wednesday that Russell traveled 600 yards — equivalent to six football fields — during her initial 911 call. He also disclosed Russell’s unusual internet search history leading up to her disappearance, which included:

  • On July 11, 7:30 a.m.: “If you have to pay for an Amber alert”
  • On July 13, 1:03 a.m.: “How to take money from a register without being caught”
  • On July 13, 2:13 a.m.: “Birmingham bus station”
  • On July 13, 2:35 a.m.: “One way bus ticket from Birmingham to Nashville”
  • On July 13, 12:10 p.m.: “The movie ‘Taken'”

“I do think it’s highly unusual … on the day someone gets kidnapped … that they’re searching the internet, Googling the movie ‘Taken,’ about an abduction,” Derzis said Wednesday, NBC News reported. “I find that very strange.”

During their investigation, authorities learned that Russell bought snacks from Target before going missing, but when they searched her car, they found none. Police officers at the time discovered a wig, cell phone and purse near her abandoned, running vehicle. Investigators added on Wednesday that they had not found any proof of a toddler on the highway and did not see any reason to fear for the general public’s safety.

Regarding concerns that the next time a woman of color goes missing, police will fail to take it seriously due to what the public has interpreted as lying by Russell, Derzis asserted that officials thoroughly examine every incident — “just like we have this one.”

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