BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — An Alabama woman who reportedly vanished off the side an interstate is home safe, but the investigation has yielded new pieces of evidence police described as “highly unusual” on Wednesday.
Carlee Russell, 25, became the focus of national attention when she called police to report a child walking along I-459 near Hoover, Alabama, on July 13. Police arrived where Russell had reported seeing the child, but found her car empty.
She was subsequently declared missing, and a widespread search began.
On Wednesday, Hoover Police Chief Nicholas Derzis revealed search history that had been taken from Russell’s phone before her disappearance.
The police chief said the alleged searches included:
- Tuesday, July 11, 7:30 a.m. – “You have to pay for an Amber alert”
- Thursday, July 13, 1:03 a.m. – “How to take money from a register without being caught”
- Thursday, July 13, 2:13 a.m. – “Birmingham bus station”
- Thursday, July 13, 2:35 a.m. – A search for a one-way ticket from Birmingham to Nashville with a departure date of July 13
- Thursday, July 13, 12:10 p.m. – A search for the movie “Taken”
Police said they also found other searches on her phone that they would not release “out of respect for her privacy.”
Police said they also found two searches on Russell’s work computer related to Amber alerts, including one related to the maximum age of an Amber alert.
“We want to talk in facts, and I do think it’s highly unusual that the day that someone gets kidnapped, that seven to eight hours before that, that they’re searching the internet, Googling the movie ‘Taken’ about an abduction,” he said. “I find that very strange.”
Before her disappearance, police said surveillance video shows her picking up food from a local restaurant and picking up granola bars and Cheez-Its from a Target store. She also took a bathrobe and roll of toilet paper from her work, Derzis said.
When police arrived at the scene of her alleged abduction, they found her wig and cell phone in the grass near the car. Her purse and Apple Watch were in the car, as well as the food she ordered from the restaurant. However, the food she bought from Target and the things she took from work were not found in the area, Derzis said.
Police also said Wednesday they could not find any evidence of a child walking along the interstate in the area, nor had they received any reports of a missing child. Derzis said the only call dispatchers received about a child walking along I-459 that night was from Russell. They played the 911 call for reporters to hear.
Listen to Carlee Russell’s 911 call here:
Two days later, on July 15, Russell returned home “on foot.” Her family told police that she had walked home. She was later taken to a Birmingham hospital for treatment where she told police she had been abducted.
According to Derzis, Russell reported she was abducted while checking on the child she described in the 911 call. She said a man came out of the trees, grabbed her, made her jump a fence and get into a car. She said she was then kept in a trailer of a tractor-trailer, which she allegedly escaped from on foot, but was captured, put in a car and taken to a house as she was blindfolded.
Her parents had also told Nexstar’s WIAT they believed she was intentionally lured out of her car and abducted on the interstate.
“It’s very clear that she was abducted from the phone call that she last had with one of our relatives. They heard her scream,” Russell’s mother, Talitha Robinson-Russell, told WIAT the day before her daughter returned home.
Another aspect of the case Derzis questioned was where Russell was during her initial call to police. He said that according to cell phone data, she traveled 600 yards in her car while she was on the call with police, claiming she was following a child during that time.
“To think that a toddler, barefoot, that could be 3 or 4 years old, is going to travel six football fields without getting in the roadway, without crying … it’s just very hard for me to understand,” he said.
Derzis said Russell reported she was held captive in a house, where she was made to get on a bed where her captors could take pictures of her. She then described being fed cheese crackers the next day by an unidentified woman.
Russell told police that while they were driving her in another car, she was able to escape while on the west side of Hoover. Derzis said that Russell had $107 in her right sock when she was found at home.
In an interview on the “Today” show Wednesday – before the police press conference – Russell’s mother said her daughter was dealing with the “trauma of people just making completely false allegations about her.”
Derzis said officers were seeking to interview Russell for a second time about what happened, but had not been able to as of Wednesday.
“Let me say up front that this investigation is not over, and we are working this case for the 49 hours that Carlee Russell was missing,” Derzis said. He said investigators had no reason to believe there was any threat to public safety.
“We’ll figure it out, I promise you that,” he said. “We’ll figure it out.”