CArlethia “Carlee” Nichole Russell appeared to disappear on July 13 after she called 911 to report that she had seen an infant on Interstate 459 in Alabama.
The 25-year-old told police she stopped her car to check on the child and called a family member before losing contact the Hoover Police Department.
When officers arrived five minutes later, Ms Russell appeared to be gone, her car’s engine still running and the toddler nowhere to be found.
Police forces and family members frantically searched for the missing woman and appealed to the public for help.
Just over 48 hours later, police were notified that Ms Russell had returned home on foot.
She told investigators she was abducted by a white man with “orange hair” and held captive in a semi trailer and house before escaping.
But less than two weeks after making headlines with a harrowing story about disappearances, child neglect and kidnapping, the Alabama woman admitted on July 24 that it was all a lie.
Here’s what we know so far about her disappearance — and the questions that still remain unanswered:
Ms Russell left work at Woodhouse Spa at Summit, a luxury shopping mall in Birmingham, at around 8.20pm on July 13, according to reports the Hoover Police Department.
She stopped at Taziki’s in the nearby Colonnade mall to pick up food for herself and her mother, then headed south on Interstate 459. according to AL.com.
At 9:34 p.m., she called 911 to report that she had seen a little boy, aged three or four, in diapers walking along the side of the road near the 11 km marker. She then called her brother’s friend and said she was stopping to check on the child. Ms Russell lost contact with the relative but the line remained open.
According to AL.com, the friend then heard what she assumed was a scream, followed by traffic noise from the freeway.
According to police, Ms Russell was caught by traffic cameras stop at the roadside.
The child was not spotted in the footage and authorities have received no further reports of a missing child, the Hoover Police Department said in a statement last week.
When police officers arrived, they found her still-running red Mercedes and her belongings, including a wig, phone, Apple Watch and purse, but no sign of her or the toddler, her mother, Talitha Russell, said.
Local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies joined family and friends in the frantic search.
It soon became apparent that they were looking for a woman who wasn’t actually missing, but not before the Alabama woman told police a harrowing story.
Carlee Russell returns home
Police were dispatched to the Red Roof Inn in Vestavia Hills early Saturday evening (July 15) after reports of a sighting were received, AL.com reported.
When they arrived there was no sign of Mrs. Russell.
Police then received an 911 call at 10.44pm saying that Ms Russell had turned up at her home on foot.
She was reportedly in shock.
Police and firefighters responded and Ms Russell was taken to UAB hospital where she was treated for unspecified injuries before being discharged.
While she was in the hospital, investigators from the Hoover Police Department took an initial statement from her.
Allegations of kidnapping are made
At a news conference on Wednesday, July 19, Hoover Police Chief Nicholas Derzis said investigators had a brief interview with Ms Russell at the hospital, where she claimed she was abducted by a man with orange hair and a bald spot “who came out of the trees.”
She claimed the man picked her up and forced her into a car, and the next thing she remembered she was in the trailer of an 18-wheel articulated lorry, Mr Derzis said.
Ms Russell told police she heard a woman and a baby in the articulated lorry but did not see them.
She claimed to have fled the trailer before being recaptured and taken to a home, where her alleged captors forced her to strip and pose for photos.
She told investigators that she was put in a car, escaped and fled into the woods and came out near her home.
Investigators found that she had a minor laceration on her lip and a torn shirt. They also found $107 worth of cash lodged in her right sock.
“Out of respect for Carlee and her family, investigators did not press for further information in this interview and planned to speak with her at length after giving her time to rest,” Mr Derzis said upon her return.
The Secret Service analyzed her phone and computers and found internet searches that were “very relevant to this case,” Mr. Derzis said.
On July 11, Ms Russell asked, “Do you have to pay for the amber alert or the search?”
On the day of her alleged kidnapping, she was looking for ways “to get money out of a till without getting caught.” She was also looking for a one-way bus ticket from Birmingham to Nashville, which departed that day, Mr Derzis said.
she searched out of stocka 2008 kidnapping thriller starring Liam Neeson.
“There have been other searches of Carlee’s phone which appear to shed light on her thinking, but out of respect for her privacy we will not be releasing the contents of those searches at this time,” the police chief said.
On Sunday, Ms Russell’s boyfriend Thomar Latrell Simmons claimed she narrowly survived the ordeal following her kidnapping.
“She literally fought for her life for 48 hours. Until she is physically and mentally stable again, she is unable at this moment to provide any current information on her abductor’s whereabouts,” Mr Simmons wrote.
Mr Simmons added that he had been “non-stop” searching for Ms Russell ever since he was informed of her disappearance.
He said there had been “false claims and assumptions” that he had something to do with her kidnapping, adding that he had not let the rumors distract him.
Mr. Simmons thanked family, friends, and church colleagues for their help.
“All I’m asking of everyone right now is respect for Carlee’s situation.”
The truth comes out: Carlee Russell made false claims
As the search for Ms. Russell continued, police began to express their doubts about the Alabama woman’s story.
At a news conference last week, Hoover police announced that Ms. Russell drove 600 yards (548 m) on an Alabama freeway while on the phone with an 911 dispatcher, claiming she was following a lost toddler.
Data from Ms Russell’s cellphone showed that she drove six football fields while speaking to police, Hoover Police Department Chief Derzis said during the news conference.
“To think that a barefoot toddler, who might be three or four years old, can walk six football pitches without getting out on the street, without crying… that’s very difficult for me to understand,” Mr Derzis said.
“Carlee’s 911 call remains the only report of a child on the freeway, even though there were numerous vehicles passing through the area at the time,” he said.
“We don’t see anyone on the freeway except their car and then someone getting out from the driver’s side.”
Those doubts were confirmed on July 24 when the Alabama Police Department said Ms Russell admitted in a statement from her attorney that she lied about the entire matter.
“There was no kidnapping on Thursday July 13th. My client has not seen a baby on the side of the road,” read a statement from Ms Russell’s lawyer. “My client apologizes for her actions to this community, the volunteers who searched for her, the Hoover Police Department and other agencies, and her friends and family.”
“My client has not seen a baby on the side of the road,” the statement said. “My client did not leave the Hoover area when she was identified as a missing person. My client had no help with this incident, but it was a single act that she committed herself.”
The Alabama woman asked the public for forgiveness and prayers as she continues to “address her issues.”
Will Carlee Russell be charged?
Section 13A-10-9 The Alabama Penal Code states that it is a Class A misdemeanor to knowingly make a false report to law enforcement.
“It was an expensive deal. “Speaking of calling 911,” Chief Derzis said at a July 24 news conference. “The sad thing is that so many people were involved and took it very, very seriously and again we wanted to focus on bringing her home and she came home… That’s how it is. We know it was a scam.”
The Alabama official added that charges could be brought against Ms. Russell.
Who is Carlee Russell?
Ms. Russell lives with her parents in Hoover, a fast-growing suburb on the southern outskirts of Birmingham.
She worked part-time at the Woodhouse Spa and was also a student at Jefferson State Community College, where she trained to be a registered nurse AL.com.
On the day she went “missing,” according to a Friday Facebook post, Ms Russell had been spending time with officers from the Harpersville Police Department and asked for help locating her.
“It was an honor for us to spend time with this intelligent, courteous and honorable young woman yesterday,” the department said said on social media.
“She was conducting business in the town of Harpersville yesterday and we were so impressed with her respect, poise, good attitude and willingness to become a nursing student and to help others.”
The police department later issued an update after their initial post led to the spread of unsubstantiated rumours.
“For clarification, Ms. Russell was not with the Harpersville Police Department,” they later added. “Contrary to the stigma, we constantly encounter citizens while also engaging with the community, and these occasions are primarily positive.”