Carlethia “Carlee” Nichole Russell was found guilty of faking her own kidnapping in July on Wednesday, October 11. She is facing one year in prison.
Russell, 25, was found guilty in Hoover, Alabama, of false reporting to law enforcement and falsely reporting an incident, both Class A misdemeanor offenses, according to multiple reports. The ruling judge recommended she spend a year behind bars.
The Alabama native was first reported missing on Thursday, July 13, after she called 911 to report seeing a toddler walking on the side of I-459 South near mile marker 11, according to the Hoover Police Department.
After Russell stopped to check on the child, she called to tell a relative what she saw. The relative lost contact with Russell, though the phone line remained active. The relative, who was said to be her brother’s girlfriend, told authorities that she heard screaming on the other line.
After being unaccounted for 48 hours, Russell returned to her home alone around 10:45 p.m. on Saturday, July 15. She was evaluated at a hospital and returned home on the afternoon of Sunday, July 16.
Two days after being found, Russell’s parents released a statement, noting she was “not in a good state.”
“We tried to hug her as best we could, but I had to stand back because she was not in a good state,” Carlee’s mother, Talitha Robinson-Russell, recalled while appearing on The Today Show on July 18, adding they couldn’t share what happened to their daughter due to it being an ongoing investigation. “She’s having to deal with the trauma of people just making completely false allegations about her.”
That same day, authorities claimed they found no evidence of a toddler walking alone down the highway the night of Russell’s disappearance.
“The Hoover Police Department has not located any evidence of a toddler walking down the interstate, nor did we receive any additional calls about a toddler walking down the interstate,” a press release stated on July 18. “Despite numerous vehicles passing through that area as depicted by the traffic camera surveillance video.”
Police were also “unable to verify most of Carlee’s initial statements made to investigators,” Hoover Police Chief Nick Derzis said in a press conference on July 19. Derzis also said that prior to Carlee’s disappearance, she made several “very strange” online searches, including information about Amber Alerts, the kidnapping thriller Taken and how to get money from a cash register without getting caught.
On July 24, Deris held another press conference where he read a statement from Russell’s attorney on her behalf, admitting the kidnapping story was made up.
“There was no kidnapping on Thursday, July 13, 2023,” the lawyer said. “My client did not see a baby on the side of the road. My client did not leave the Hoover area when she was identified as a missing person,” Derzis read. “This was a single act done by herself. My client was not with anyone or any hotel with anyone from the time she was missing. My client apologizes for her actions to this community, the volunteers who were searching for her, to the Hoover Police Department and other agencies as well, [and] to her friends and family.”
Carlee was subsequently charged with filing a false police report and filing a false statement to law enforcement authorities. It was later revealed that Russell turned herself in to the police and was later released on a $2,000 bond.
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