Alabama police have poured cold water on the kidnapping claims of Carlethia “Carlee” Russell, the 25-year-old woman who said she was abducted last week while trying to help a toddler on the side of a highway.
It’s a bizarre story that’s captured interest around the globe, after Russell, a nursing student, disappeared last Thursday shortly after calling 911 to report seeing a barefoot child walking alone on an Alabama interstate.
When police responded to the call they found no signs of the reported toddler, but did find Russell’s car along with her personal belongings, including a wig, cellphone and purse.
Traffic cameras from the area showed what police believed to be her car slowing down and stopping alongside the highway with the blinkers on. But Russell, and the snacks she had just purchased at Target, were nowhere to be found.
On Saturday night, 49 hours after her disappearance and following an unfruitful statewide search, Russell returned home on foot.
In the days since, however, the story behind Russell’s disappearance has only gotten more baffling as police try to make sense of what happened.
On Wednesday afternoon, police shared during a press conference that Russell told detectives after her reappearance that she was abducted from the side of the interstate by two people and held until she was able to escape.
However, Hoover Police Chief Nick Derzis told reporters other information that casts doubt on the account and said investigators haven’t yet been granted permission to interview her.
“There are many questions left to be answered, but only Carlee can provide those answers,” Derzis told reporters, according to NPR. “What we can say is that we’ve been unable to verify most of Carlee’s initial statement made to investigators, and we have no reason to believe that there is a threat to the public safety related to this particular case.”
Police also played the 911 call made by Russell around 9:24 p.m. on the night of her disappearance, in which she sounds calm as she reports to the dispatcher that the toddler does not seem to be injured.
When the operator urges Russell to remain at the scene, saying officers are on their way, she says “OK” before the conversation ends.
The information shared by police about Russell’s behaviour in the days leading up to her disappearance further complicates the story.
While Russell claimed in her initial report to police that she was forced into an 18-wheeler truck and taken to a home where a man and woman forced her to strip naked while they took photos of her, Derzis said that Russell had conducted online searches for the abduction-themed movie Taken, “how to pay for an Amber Alert” and “how to take money from a register without being caught,” shortly before she disappeared.
Police said she had also searched for a one-way bus ticket from Birmingham to Nashville departing the day that she vanished.
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“I do think it’s highly unusual the day that someone gets kidnapped that seven or eight hours before that, they’re searching the internet, Googling the movie Taken about an abduction,” Derzis said. “I find that very, very strange.”
The police revelations came two days after Russell’s family told NBC News in a statement that they believed Russell’s account and called on police to “pursue her alleged abductor.”
Her boyfriend, Thomas Latrell Simmons, backed up the allegations, posting to Facebook that Russell had been “fighting for her life for 48 hours” after she allegedly fended off at least one abductor, reports The Guardian.
Derzis told reporters that during their initial interview, they noticed Russell had a tear in her shirt and a “small injury to her lip,” but that she has declined interviews since “because of the trauma of the incident.” He did say, however, that they have met with her parents several times during the past few days.
According to ABC News, Derzis said police are not aware of any indication of mental illness in Russell and stressed that the investigation continues.
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