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Carlee Russell made abduction-related internet searches before her disappearance

Alabama nursing student Carlee Russell, 25, went missing from the shoulder of a highway Thursday night. She returned home Saturday. The circumstances of her disappearance remain unclear.
Hoover Police Department
Alabama nursing student Carlee Russell, 25, went missing from the shoulder of a highway Thursday night. She returned home Saturday. The circumstances of her disappearance remain unclear.

Updated July 19, 2023 at 7:43 PM ET

The Alabama woman who went missing for two days last week searched online for information about Amber Alerts, local bus tickets and the abduction-based action movie Taken before her disappearance, police say.

The insight was one of many details authorities shared during a Wednesday afternoon press conference where they provided the fullest account yet of what occurred in the puzzling incident that's grabbed national attention.

Carlee Russell, a 25-year-old nursing student, disappeared on Thursday after calling 911 and her brother's girlfriend to report seeing a toddler wandering along the side of the road.

Police say they still have no evidence of a missing toddler, nor any reports of such a sighting by other drivers along the busy stretch of road.

First responders who arrived at the scene minutes after the 911 call found Russell's car as well as her personal belongings, including her wig, cellphone and purse — but no Russell.

Then on Saturday, about 49 hours after her initial disappearance, Russell returned home.

According to Hoover Police Chief Nick Derzis, Russell told detectives after she reappeared that she had been kidnapped and held by two people until she was able to escape.

But Derzis shared other information that cast doubt on Russell's 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 said. "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."

Russell made abduction-related internet searches before her disappearance

On July 11, two days before she went missing, Russell used her cell phone to search whether you have to pay for an Amber Alert.

The day she went missing, Russell searched for information about the bus station in Birmingham, which is about 10 miles from Hoover. She also searched for a one-way bus ticket from Birmingham to Nashville.

She also searched for the movie Taken and how to take money from a register without being caught on the day she vanished, too.

"I do think it's highly unusual the day that someone gets kidnapped that seven hours, eight hours before that, that they're searching the internet, Googling the movie Taken about an abduction," Derzis said. "I find that very strange."

Derzis said investigators uncovered other internet searches that appeared to shed light on Russell's state of mind but that police were not releasing them out of respect for her privacy. There were also two internet searches related to Amber Alerts on a computer at her workplace.

Additionally, investigators used cell phone records to determine that Russell traveled 600 yards along the highway as she spoke with the 911 operator.

"She said it, and I'm not saying it couldn't happen, because I've always been one of these guys, never said never," Derzis said. "To think that a toddler — barefoot, that could be three or four 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."

Russell told police she was kidnapped and blindfolded

According to Derzis, Russell told detectives after she returned home Saturday night that she had been kidnapped by a man who emerged from the trees near her car when she got out to check on the child.

She said the man — who she described as having orange hair with a bald spot — picked her up. She said she screamed, and then he forced her over a fence and into a car. The next thing she remembered was being in the trailer of an 18-wheeler, she said.

Russell said she heard the voice of an adult female and the sound of a baby crying.

She managed to escape the 18-wheeler and flee on foot but was captured again and blindfolded, Russell said, but her hands weren't tied because her captors didn't want to leave marks on her wrists.

Russell said she was taken to a house and forced to get undressed, and she believes her captors took photos of her but did not remember any physical or sexual contact.

When she woke up the next day, Russell told police she was fed cheese crackers by the female captor, who also played with her hair.

She said she was put in a vehicle again and was able to escape for a second time, running through the woods until she emerged near her house.

Detectives observed a tear in her shirt and a small injury to her lip, and said she had $107 in cash in her right sock.

Police released other details about what occurred before Russell's disappearance

Late Tuesday night, officials released a statement saying Russell bought snacks at Target shortly before going missing but that they weren't found with her other belongings.

During the press conference, Derzis noted that, before her disappearance, Russell also left her workplace with a dark-colored bathrobe, a roll of toilet paper and other items — none of which were found at the scene.

Authorities at the press conference also played Russell's 911 call, in which she describes seeing a white male toddler in a diaper.

Police added that surveillance video from Russell's neighborhood on Saturday shows her walking down the sidewalk alone before returning home.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Joe Hernandez