The 25-year-old Alabama woman who sparked a police search and national media headlines when she disappeared from an Alabama highway after claiming to see a toddler was never missing, her lawyer said Monday.
Carlethia “Carlee” Nichole Russell returned home on foot on July 15 after she was reported missing off a highway in a Birmingham suburb on July 13. Prior to her disappearance, Russell called 911 to report a toddler walking along the interstate, the Hoover Police Department said in a statement. After Russell returned home, she told police she was kidnapped.
However, Hoover police were unable to verify much of her story.
In a Monday press conference, Hoover Chief of Police Nick Derzis read a statement from Russell’s attorney saying she was never kidnapped and she never saw a child on the interstate, the statement said.
Here’s a timeline of events starting from the days leading up to the 911 call.
Carlee Russell’s search history before she was reported missing
During a July 19 press conference, Derzis said Russell made a number of internet searches on her phone and computer at work that were “very relevant” to her disappearance, Derzis said, including searches about a movie on abductions and questions about Amber Alerts.
Here’s what she searched:.
July 13 at 8:20 p.m.: Russell leaves work, picks up food and stops at Target
On July 13, Hoover police said Russell left work around 8:20 p.M. CDT and ordered food from The Colonnade, a local shopping center.
She had items with her from her work, including a dark-colored bathrobe and a roll of toilet paper, Derzis said Wednesday. Those were also not found at the scene.
Russell went to Target after leaving the shopping center and bought snacks. “These items were not located in the vehicle,” police said in a statement sent to USA TODAY.
July 13 at 9:30 p.m.: Russell calls 911 after claiming to see a child walking along the interstate
Russell called 911 at 9:34 p.M. After she claimed to see “a male toddler in a diaper” on the side of Interstate 459 South and was “stopping to check on him,” police said.
“Traffic camera footage was obtained which depicted this portion of the incident, and that footage is still being analyzed as part of the investigation,” police said.
After calling 911, Russell called her brother’s girlfriend to tell her about the situation. Russell stayed on the phone with the girlfriend as Russell got out of her and said she was checking on the child, AL.Com reported.
“My son’s girlfriend heard her asking the child, ‘Are you OK?’ She never heard the child say anything but then she heard our daughter scream,” her mother, Talitha Russell, told AL.Com. “From there, all you hear on her phone is background noise from the interstate.”.
Hoover police said the family member lost contact with Russell, but the line remained open.
July 13 around 9:40 p.m.: Hoover police arrive to the scene
Police officers arrived at the scene within “five minutes of being dispatched” and found her car abandoned on the side of the interstate, Hoover police said. They also found Russell’s wig, cell phone and purse with an Apple Watch inside, on the roadway near her vehicle.
Police were “unable to find her or a child in the area,” police said. They also didn’t receive any calls about a missing child.
The next 49 hours
Hoover police partnered with local, state and federal authorities during the search. Russell’s whereabouts over the next 49 hours were unclear.
July 15 at 10:44 p.m.: Russell returns home
At 10:44 p.M. On July 15, Hoover police received a 911 call saying Russell had returned home on foot, according to police.
When first responders arrived, they found Russell conscious and speaking, police said in the statement sent to USA TODAY. Russell was taken to an area hospital where she was evaluated and has since been treated and released, police said.
Detectives obtained surveillance video from Russell’s neighborhood which showed her walking down the sidewalk alone prior to returning to her home, police said in the statement.
“Fire department radio traffic obtained by several media outlets shows that medics were dispatched to her residence on an ‘unresponsive but breathing’ person. That was the term used in the initial dispatch of the Hoover Fire Department to the residence, and the information about her condition was simply a dispatcher relaying information from what a 911 caller told the emergency communicator,” police said in the statement.
July 18: Russell’s parents mention ‘abductor’ in ‘Today’ interview
In an interview with NBC News, Russell’s parents urged the public not to speculate on their daughter’s case.
“Carlee has given detectives her statement so that they can continue to pursue her abductor,” Talitha read from a written statement on July 18.
Hoover police told USA TODAY they spoke to Russell but weren’t able to “publicly share the details” from the interview. Hoover police said they will follow up with Russell again to “attempt to get a better understanding of her movements during the time she was missing,” Hoover police told USA TODAY.
“Numerous evidentiary items are still being evaluated, and those items are key in the process of determining exactly what took place in the approximately 49 hours Carlee was missing, but also what took place prior to her disappearance,” police said in the statement sent to USA TODAY.
What happened to Carlee Russell?Police say many details of her story can’t be verified.
July 19: Hoover Police Department holds press conference
In the July 19 press conference, Derzis said they had “no reason to believe that there is a threat to public safety related to this particular case.”.
Derzis said Russell has not agreed to answer police questions after the initial interview. Police are still hoping to talk to her further.
Police also played the audio from that 911 call during the press conference. In it, Russell told a dispatcher about a white child who didn’t have shoes on and had on what looked like a white T-shirt and a diaper. She said she had pulled over but was staying in her car while keeping her eye on the child.
According to an analysis of her cellphone data, Russell traveled about 600 yards in her car at the same time she was on the phone with 911, Derzis said.
When she got out of her car, Russell told police a man appeared out of the woods and told her he was checking on the child, Derzis said. Russell said the man then picked her up and she screamed.
Russell said the man “made her go over a fence” and forced her into a car. The man had orange hair and a bald spot on the back of his head, she told police.
“The next thing she remembers is being in the trailer of an 18-wheeler,” Derzis said.
Russell told investigators she heard both a male and female voice, as well as a baby crying. She said she escaped and was recaptured, blindfolded but not tied up, taken to a house, and fed crackers. At the house, Russell told police she was made to take her clothes off and she believed her captors may have taken pictures of her.
Eventually, she told police she “did not remember anything else” until being put back in a vehicle and being able to escape.
She told police she ran through woods until she came out near her home, Derzis said.
July 24: Russell’s lawyer says she was never missing at second press conference
In the statement read by Derzis Monday, Russell’s lawyer said no one assisted her in fabricating her story and she apologizes to the community, searchers, police and her family for her mistake, Derzis read.
“The sad thing is… There were so many people that were involved… Took this thing very seriously,” Derzis said. “It is what it is.”.
“The facts, I think last Wednesday, pretty much showed that we knew it was a hoax,” Derzis added.
Derzis said police are in talks with the Jefferson County District Attorney’s office about possible criminal charges. “We will announce those charges when, and if, they are filed,” Derzis said.
Latest on Carlee Russell case:Disappearance, ‘missing child’ reported on Alabama highway, a hoax, police say.
Contributing: Jeanine Santucci, Anthony Robledo USA TODAY.