Hoover, Alabama, police held a press conference Wednesday to update the public on the ongoing case of community college student Carlethia ‘Carlee’ Russell. Hoover Police Chief Nick Derzis said the investigation was still ongoing with no threat to public safety — but said Russell’s search history held several searches that implied a state of mind.
According to police, during an initial interview, Russell claimed that following her exit from the car, she was taken into the woods by a man with a bald spot. She claimed she was grabbed and placed into a nearby 18-wheeler, then blindfolded and driven to an unknown house where she was forced to undress and take photos. Russell also told police she escaped when they tried to move her, and then ran through the woods until she eventually made her way home.
Since Russell’s disappearance, online true crime communities have pushed various conspiracies about the nursing student’s absence, including that she was abducted and trafficked. Derzis declined to comment on the possibility of abduction or Russell’s mental state but said she had several “strange” searches in her history: including instructions on how to take money from a “register,” buying a one-way bus ticket, instructions on Amber alerts, and the trafficking thriller film Taken, starring Liam Neeson. Russell also told a 911 operator that she was following a toddler who was walking along the freeway, but data shows her car actually traveled hundreds of yards while she was on the phone.
“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,” Dervis said.
On July 13, Russell called 911 and told the responder she saw a toddler in a diaper walking along Hoover, Alabama’s Interstate 459. After hanging up the phone, she called her brother’s girlfriend, telling her the same story before pulling onto the shoulder of the road. According to Russell’s mother Talitha, the last thing that could be heard on the phone was Russell asking someone if they were alright. “[Her brother’s girlfriend] never heard the child say anything but then she heard our daughter scream,” Talitha told local news organization AL.com. “From there, all you hear on her phone is background noise from the interstate.” Police officers responded to the scene in under six minutes, where they found Russell’s car empty with her wig, purse, Apple Watch, and cell phone inside. Forty eight hours later and a statewide manhunt later, Russell knocked on her family’s door and was immediately taken to the hospital by first responders.
Police have said they are still investigating and will update the public with additional information as necessary.