After the frenzied search for Carlee Russell, and her surprise reappearance at her parents’ house a few days later, there has been a multitude of questions surrounding her return home. Her initial disappearance caused a lot of confusion and fear in the town of Hoover, Alabama. The 25-year-old nursing student claimed to have been kidnapped on the side of I-459 as she was trying to help a toddler she saw wandering alongside the road.
Initially, Russell declined to talk with authorities due to her shock but was transported to the hospital for an evaluation. She then spoke with investigators about her ordeal and since that time, it appears that the kidnapping might have been a hoax. Authorities have not outright called the kidnapping a hoax but they have publicly stated that they are unable to verify the details of her story. The police have requested a second interview, but Russell has declined.
Here is what we do know so far, on July 13th after leaving work, Russell called 911 to report a toddler in a diaper wandering on the side of the road. She hung up with the police and then called a family member to tell them what she saw. Carlee lost connection with the family member but the line stayed open. Carlee’s mother, Talitha, said in a statement the individual on the phone with Carlee was her brother’s girlfriend. The girlfriend said she heard Carlee say, “Are you ok?” and then a scream.
Police arrived at the scene three minutes after Carlee exited her car. Traffic camera footage showed her pulling over and exiting her car. Police then confirmed that there were no other calls that day reporting a toddler on the side of the road. The police found her car, the door open, and the engine still running. Carlee’s purse was still in the car along with her wig, her Air Pods, and an Apple Watch.
Police conducted an extensive search for Carlee. Multiple tips had come in after Carlee was reported missing. After 49 hours, she returned home on foot. She received medical attention immediately after her return. Her family then asked for some space for Carlee to process the trauma she experienced during the alleged kidnapping.
After the police were able to interview Carlee, they held a press conference to inform the public of the investigation’s findings so far. Chief Nick Derzis laid out the facts of the case and ended the conference by saying the police could not confirm Carlee’s claims of being kidnapped.
Carlee told the police the following regarding the kidnapping:
- After she stopped to help the boy, she said was pulled into an 18-wheeler by a man with orange hair and a bald spot who had come out of the woods.
- Carlee said there was a woman in the truck and she could hear a baby crying. She did escape once from the truck, but they captured her.
- Carlee was then blindfolded but not tied up. Carlee said the kidnappers did not want to tie her up because they did not want to leave marks on her wrists.
- She was then taken to a house where the man and woman took pictures of her while undressed but they did not physically or sexually assault her.
- The next day, Carlee woke up and was fed cheese and crackers by the woman. The woman then played with Carlee’s hair.
- Carlee was then led out into a car but managed to escape somewhere in West Hoover. She told detectives she ran through a lot of woods before coming out near her home.
Police have been unable to verify any details of her story. However, they did uncover some information that Carlee did not tell them during her initial interview.
The following are the details that were uncovered and confirmed by the police and the secret service during their investigation:
- Surveillance video from the spa Russell works at showed her concealing a dark-colored bathrobe, a roll of toilet paper and other items from her work before walking out.
- Russell then ordered food from the restaurant Taziki’s and after that, went to Target on U.S. 280 where she purchased granola bars, Cheez-its, and a drink. The food she ordered from Taziki’s was still in her car but the other items from her work and Target were missing from her car and the scene.
- The police released information about the search history on her phone. They found she had searched the term “Do you have to pay for an Amber Alert” two days before she vanished. On the day she disappeared, she searched “How to take money from the register without getting caught Reddit” and “Birmingham bus station.” She then searched for a one-way bus ticket from Birmingham to Nashville. Later she searched for the movie “Taken.”
- The police also found two searches on the computer at the spa related to Amber Alerts, including what is the maximum age for an Amber Alert.
- Using data from her phone, police discovered she had traveled about 600 yards in her car while she was on the phone with 911 alerting them to a toddler on the side of the road.
- Detectives also noted she had $107 in cash in her right sock.
Since this initial interview, Carlee has refused to sit down for a second interview. Also, her boyfriend, Thomar Latrell Simmons removed all traces of her from his social media. When she first disappeared, he wrote an impassioned plea for her return and posted it to his Facebook account. After she returned, he claimed that she had to fight for her life to come home. Now, his social media is completely devoid of any mention or photograph of Carlee. He also has not commented publicly since the police stated they were unable to confirm her story.
So what’s next? Keith Czeskleba, Hoover Police Department’s public information officer told USA Today, “We have not begun to count the number of hours and resources dedicated to this case – both from our agency and partner agencies as well. I cannot recall a missing person case like this in my time here – certainly not of this magnitude.”
Czeskleba did not say exactly what the police were planning on doing next but they are hoping to get more information from Carlee. The police are most likely chasing down any additional witnesses, checking surveillance cameras in the area, and following up on any tips. There was one tip that came in from a trucker about the possibility of seeing a grey vehicle and a man standing next to Carlee’s car during the time of her “abduction.” That tip has yet to lead to any solid information. We will report on any other details that are reported.
7/25/23 – Carlee Russell Update, It was all a Hoax
An update to our previous story about the alleged kidnapping of Carlee Russell. After pressure from the police for a second interview, Russell finally decided to come clean about her ordeal. She was scheduled to come in for a second interview and then her attorney Emory Anthony instead told police he had a statement from Russell regarding her “kidnapping.” Police Chief Nicholas C. Derzis read the statement provided by Russell’s attorney during a press conference.
The statement provided by her attorney stated the following, “We ask for your prayers for Carlee as she addresses her issues and attempts to move forward understanding that she made a mistake in this matter. Carlee again asks for your forgiveness.”
Russell’s ex-boyfriend, Thomar Latrell Simmons, took to Instagram to express his resentment over the hoax. Previously, Simmons had defended Russell on his social media but after the statement made by the police, he has deleted his defense of his no ex-girlfriend.
He wrote, “Carlee’s actions created hurt, confusion, and dishonesty. I was made aware of the false narrative after coming to the defense of my ex Carlee Russell. Myself and my family’s nature was to react in love, and genuine concern. We are disgusted by the outcome of this entire situation. I strongly feel exactly like you all, blindsided with Carlee’s actions.”
Police are still unclear about Russell’s motivations to stage a fake kidnapping and Derzis said that his office is currently discussing charges with the Jefferson County District Attorney’s office. The police are also planning on meeting with Russell today to interview her regarding the hoax. If the motivation for the hoax is released, we will report on the findings.
8/1/23 – Carlee Russell Update, Lawmakers Looking to Create New Felony Charge for Faking a Kidnapping
Local lawmakers are now considering changing the laws so in the future anyone who fakes their own kidnapping can be charged with a felony instead of a misdemeanor. This comes after Carlee Russell was arrested last week by Hoover police for making false statements to the police about her own fake kidnapping.
The Hoover Police Department hosted a press conference to discuss the charges against Russell. Chief Nicholas Derzis said in the press conference, “The story opened wounds for families whose loved ones really were victims of kidnappings.”
He added he shares in the frustration that Russell was only charged with misdemeanors and asked state legislators to review the law to see if there could be any “enhancements” made to the law to help deter others from falsely reporting a violent kidnapping. Regarding the current charges against Russell, Derzis said, “Existing laws only allowed the charges that were filed to be filed.”
Russell was charged with one count of false reporting to law enforcement authorities and one count of falsely reporting an incident. If convicted, each charge is a misdemeanor with a $1,000 bond and each is punishable with up to one year in prison and a potential $6,000 fine. She was released on a $2,000 bond.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall was also at the press conference. Marshall said that his office intends to prosecute the case fully. Marshall said, “We don’t see this as a victimless crime. There are significant hours spent, resources expended as a result of this investigation, and not only that, but the many men and women who are civilians who wore those yellow vests on a hot afternoon and evening looking for someone they thought was abducted, trying to be of assistance.”
Marshall added his office would be continuing to monitor the case to see if there are any additional charges that need to be brought against Russell. The outcry in the community has caused lawmakers to take notice. Hoover’s City Council President John Lyda plans to present a resolution demanding tougher accountability for people that fake their own abduction. Lyda said, “It seems reasonable to me that a crime that rises to the level of what we saw, Ms. Russell, the crime that she’s charged with, where she has alleged that she was a victim of a felony and it turned out to be a hoax, perhaps that needs to be charged and prosecuted as a felony.”
Let us know if you have any information or corrections to this story.