Alabama police said Wednesday they found no evidence to support a woman’s report that she was abducted and held for two days after she stopped to help a child she saw walking along the side of a highway.
Police said an investigation showed the woman, Carlee Russell, 25, had searched online for information about Amber Alerts and the film ‘Taken’, which is about a kidnapping, before calling 911 Thursday night to report a child walking. the interstate in Hoover, Alabama, a suburb of Birmingham.
When police arrived at the interstate minutes later, they found Ms. Russell’s vehicle and some of her personal belongings, including her cell phone and purse, but could not find her. The subsequent search for her and the child he reported seeing of her attracted national attention and intense speculation about what had transpired.
Ms Russell walked home on Saturday night, police said.
She told investigators that night she was forced into a car and then into an eighteen-wheeler before fleeing, only to be kidnapped again and put into a car, said Chief Nicholas Derzis of the Police Department. Hoover at a press conference Wednesday. Ms Russell said she was then held in a house and loaded into another car before escaping and racing home through the woods.
Police said when they spoke to her Saturday night, she had a small gash on her lip, a tear in her shirt and $107 in cash in her sock.
Chief Derzis said an ongoing investigation had cast much of Ms Russell’s account into question.
He said when Ms Russell left work on Thursday evening, surveillance video showed she had « hidden » a bathrobe, roll of toilet paper and other items from her workplace. She then ordered food from a restaurant and went to a Target, where she bought granola bars and Cheez-Its, she said. She then drove her to the highway, where she reported seeing the child.
Chief Derzis said his 911 call remains the only report of a child on the highway, despite the fact that many vehicles have passed through the area.
Data from Ms Russell’s phone, she said, showed that during the less than three minutes she was on the phone, telling a 911 dispatcher she was following the child on the highway, she traveled about 600 yards. The idea of a child traveling the distance of six football fields without swerving into the lane or crying was « just very hard for me to understand, » the boss said.
He said video footage of the roadway showed no one on the highway « apart from his car, and then someone getting out on his driver’s side. » He said police had sent the video to the FBI for further analysis.
Two days before reporting the child on the highway, Ms. Russell searched online for the phrase « You have to pay for Amber Alert, » Chief Derzis said.
On the day of her disappearance, she said, she searched « How to take money from a ledger without getting caught » and had searched online for a one-way bus ticket traveling that day from Birmingham to Nashville, she said.
As authorities continue to investigate the case, police have asked to question Ms Russell a second time, the chief said, « but that request was denied. »
“As you can see, there are still many questions to be answered,” Chief Derzis said. “But only Carlee can provide those answers. What we can say is that we have been unable to verify most of Carlee’s initial statement to investigators and have no reason to believe there is a threat to public safety related to this particular case.
Chief Derzis said detectives remain focused on determining Ms Russell’s whereabouts in the 49 hours she was missing. When asked about possible allegations, he said: « To be perfectly honest with you, this hasn’t even crossed our minds or been discussed. »
In an interview with NBC News earlier this week, Mrs Russell’s parents refused to discuss what their daughter had told them about the two days she went missing.
But Mrs Russell’s mother, Talitha Russell, said she believed her daughter had been abducted. « There have been times when she’s had to fight physically for her life and there have been times when she’s had to fight mentally for her life, » her mother said.
Talitha Russell did not immediately respond to a text message Wednesday and her voicemail was full.
At the press conference with Chief Derzis, Hoover Mayor Frank V. Brocato said Ms. Russell’s report had spread « fear and pandemonium. »
He said the community took action and organized search parties and prayer vigils after his disappearance. Hoover police, he said, also mobilized other law enforcement agencies, « stopping at nothing to find Carlee. »