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Carlee Russell, Who Vanished After Reporting Child on Roadside, Conducted Online Searches on Amber Alerts and Abduction Film, Cops Say
“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," Hoover Police Chief Nicholas C. Derzis said of Carlee Russell's disappearance.
Police investigating the case of Carlee Russell — an Alabama woman who went missing after calling 911 to report a child walking alone along the highway in Hoover, only to return home two days later — unveiled new details Wednesday about their interview with her and her online search activity before her disappearance.
Hoover Police Chief Nicholas C. Derzis revealed at a press conference Wednesday that on the day Russell disappeared, she searched the internet with queries about Amber Alerts and the abduction-based movie Taken.
On July 13, Carlethia “Carlee” Nichole Russell, 25, was on her way home from work when she pulled over on Interstate 459 South at around 9:34 p.m., WVTM reported. Police said she called 911 stating she saw a toddler around 3 or 4 walking along the interstate, and that she went to check on the child. She also called a family member to tell them what was going on.
Russell’s mom, Tabitha Russell, told AL.com that her daughter was on the phone with her brother’s girlfriend, and that the girlfriend heard Russell asking the child, "Are you OK?," but never heard a response from a child. Tabitha added that her son's girlfriend then heard Russell scream. Responding police found Russell's car, but no sign of the woman or a child.
On July 15, Hoover police said they received a call around 10:45 p.m. that Russell came back to her home on foot.
What does Carlee Russell say happened to her?
During detectives’ initial interview with Russell, she told them that when she left her car to check on the toddler she claimed she saw walking down Interstate 459 in Hoover, she was abducted by a white man with orange hair. “She claimed that the man then picked her up and she screamed,” Derzis said. “She stated he then made her go over a fence, she claimed he then forced her into a car, and the next thing she remembers is being in the trailer of an 18-wheeler.”
Russell also said the man and a woman blindfolded her and took her to a home and made her undress, according to police.
“She believes they took pictures of her, but she does not remember them having any physical or sexual contact,” Derzis said.
Russell told police that the woman brushed her hair, but that was the extent of what she could remember, detectives said.
Russell also told detectives that she was eventually able to escape in the west side of Hoover, running through woods until she made it close to her house.
During her brief statement to authorities on Sunday, police noted she had a cut on her lip, along with a tear in her shirt and complaints of her head hurting.
What have police said about Carlee Russell's disappearance?
Derzis said police have not been able to corroborate any details of her story. “What we can say is we’ve been unable to verify most of Carlee’s initial statements made to investigators,” he said, while adding that there seems to be no threat to public safety from the case.
Authorities also detailed internet searches Russell made prior to her 911 call.
Investigators, enlisting the help of the Secret Service, analyzed Russell’s cellphone, which was left behind at the scene, along with other personal items, including her wig, AirPods and Apple Watch.
What did Carlee Russell allegedly search for on the internet before disappearing?
“On July 11, at 7:30 a.m., the term ‘how to pay for an Amber Alert’ was searched,” Derzis said during Wednesday’s conference. Other internet queries on the day of her disappearance included, “How to take money from a register without getting caught,” a one-way bus ticket from Birmingham to Nashville leaving on July 13, the maximum age of an Amber Alert and a search on Taken, in which Liam Neeson played a dad whose daughter was abducted.
“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. I find that very strange," Derzis said.
Through further cellphone analysis, police found that when Russell was in her car during the time she was purportedly following the child, Russell traveled 600 yards, equivalent to 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.
Besides Russell’s 911 call, police have not had any reports nor found “any evidence of a toddler walking down the interstate,” according to NBC News, citing a Tuesday night police statement.
“As you can see, there are many questions left to be answered, but only Carlee can provide those answers,” Derzis said.
Police were able to briefly speak with her when she returned home, but were “waiting for her to be made available to obtain a more detailed statement,” police said Tuesday.
What have Russell’s loved ones said about her disappearance?
Russell’s parents told NBC News that they believe their daughter was abducted, but would not go into any detail about what their daughter has told them, citing the ongoing investigation. Russell’s boyfriend, Thomar Lattrel Simmons, commented on the news of her return on Instagram Sunday, saying: “She was literally fighting for her life for 48 hours.”
Russell’s mother, Talitha Robinson-Russell, said of the moments following her daughter’s safe return home: "We tried to hug her as best we could, but I had to stand back, because she was not in a good state."