The case of the Alabama woman who mysteriously disappeared while stating she was attempting to help a toddler walking alone on the side of the highway continues to unravel – but rather than investigators finding they are piecing clues together, they are now more befuddled than when the case was originally brought to their attention.
On Wednesday, police say they could not verify initial statement Carlee Russell made to police, but they did find that she conducted internet searches about how to pay for Amber Alerts, how to take money from a register without getting caught and the movie Taken.
On Wednesday, Hoover Police Chief Nicholas C. Derzis said that Russell had an injury on her lip and reported that she had a headache after she was found Sunday. She further indicated that she saw a child walking along the highway and was abducted by a man with orange hair and a woman.
“She claimed he then forced her into a car and the next thing she remembers is being in the trailer of an 18-wheeler,” Derzis said. “She stated the male was with a female. However, she never saw the female, only hearing her voice.”
Derzis added that Russell told investigators that she was able to escape the following day and made it home by foot, but officials have not been able to substantiate most of her claims.
“What we can say is we’ve been unable to verify most of Carlee’s initial statements made to investigators,” Derzis said. “And we have no reason to believe that there is a threat to the public safety related to this particular case.”
He continued: “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 Wednesday.
Carlee Russell, 25, was found after she appeared at her family’s house. According to Nicholas Derzis, the police chief of the Hoover Police Department, her family was stunned to see her and it is unclear how she arrived there. She has since been taken to the hospital for a medical evaluation.
Her reappearance marks the end of a search that made national headlines after she called a dispatcher shortly before 10 PM on the evening of July 13 to report that she had pulled over on I-459 South to check on the toddler, police say. When officers arrived at the scene, she was gone but her vehicle was still there, the police said in a statement.
Shortly after Russell went missing, her mother, Talitha Russell, told the New York Times that her daughter was a “kindhearted” soul and was “the life of the party.” She was working part-time at the Woodhouse Spa in Birmingham while enrolled in nursing courses at Jefferson State Community College.
Two days later, Russell’s mother said that several tipsters provided what they knew about her daughter’s whereabouts.
“We want everyone to do what they can to be relentless in searching for her, leaving no stones unturned and just getting the word out there,” she said. “Not just in Alabama or in Birmingham, but in every state.”
Russell, who recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Auburn University at Montgomery had just finished her shift at the spa and was headed to a Mediterranean restaurant to grab chicken wraps for her mother when she said she saw a toddler on the side of the interstate, her mother said. She says she advised Russell stay with the child until police arrived. Russell then called her brother’s girlfriend and told her about the situation when the girlfriend said she heard her scream, then heard the phone drop.
The girlfriend – whose name has been withheld – said that she immediately called her family, leading them to track Russell’s whereabouts using a phone feature. When they got to the scene, they found her hat and wig on the ground. Her car door was open and the engine was running. But she was gone.
Her disappearance sparked statewide concern as officers combed through the area to find her.
Authorities say they are puzzled about the case because no one else had seen or called the police to report a child walking alone on the highway.
“That is a little unusual,” Derzis told The New York Times, adding, “The thing that we do know is that her car was on the interstate, and she was not when we got there, and that’s what we’re trying to figure out.”
Russell’s mother says while her daughter went missing, she would pray for the day to see her daughter, who has a Bible scripture tattooed on her arm that says “God is within her. She will not fail.”