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Carlee Russell charged in connection with kidnapping hoax

The 25-year-old nursing student initially told police that she had been abducted in the time she was missing. Her attorney later sent a letter saying her claims were false.
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HOOVER, Ala. — Carlee Russell, the Alabama nursing student who claimed she was kidnapped for 49 hours in a stunt she later confessed was a lie, was charged with two misdemeanors in connection with the hoax, police announced Friday. 

The arrest warrant was issued earlier today, Hoover Police Chief Nicholas C. Derzis said in a news conference.

She surrendered to authorities, accompanied by her attorney, at the Hoover City Jail to face two misdemeanor charges: false reporting to law enforcement authorities and falsely reporting an incident, he said.

Carlethia “Carlee” Nichole Russell
Carlethia “Carlee” Nichole Russell.Courtesy Hoover Police Department via Facebook

The charges carried a bond of $1,000 each and are punishable by up to a year in jail and a $6,000 fine if convicted, the chief said. Russell was released from jail after posting bond.

“Her decisions that night created panic and alarm for the citizens of our city and even across the nation as concern grew that a kidnapper was on the loose using a small child as bait," Derzis said. "The story opened wounds for families whose loved ones really were victims of kidnappings, some of which even helped organize searches.”

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said “we intend to fully prosecute this case,” adding his office will monitor the investigation for potential further charges. 

Marshall said while Russell wasn't kidnapped, they "don’t see this as a victimless crime," pointing to the "significant hours spent" and "resources expended" in the frantic search for her.

Russell’s attorney, Emory Anthony, said Friday: “All we can do now is wait for the court date and see how we go from there.”

When asked how Russell is handling the charges, he said: “She’s doing like anybody else charged with something. She realized that, although it’s two misdemeanors, it’s still a serious offense. She understands that.”

The news comes four days after Russell confessed it was all made up in a statement from her attorney, read out Monday by Hoover Police Chief Nicholas C. Derzis.

"There was no kidnapping on Thursday July 13, 2023. 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," the statement, shared by her attorney said. "My client did not have any help in this incident. This was a single act done by herself."

Russell’s disappearance captured the attention of the nation. She went missing after she called 911 on July 13, claiming she saw a toddler in a diaper wandering on the side of Interstate 459 South.

The 25-year-old returned home July 15 on foot and provided a story to police claiming that she was abducted, taken by a male with orange hair and a woman.

She claimed she was forced into an 18-wheeler truck and taken to a home where a man and a woman told her to get undressed and then took photos of her. 

In a July 19 news conference, police said they were only able to have a preliminary interview with Russell and were waiting to complete a more in-depth interview to determine her whereabouts in the time she was missing.

Derzis said investigators were unable to corroborate many of her claims.

The police chief said Friday that police have still been unable to fully retrace Russell's whereabouts in the time she was missing, and it’s unclear if she was with anyone.

However, he said that during the course of the investigation, officials found internet searches on her phone about paying for Amber Alerts, how to take money from a register without getting caught and about the movie "Taken." 

In her statement Monday, Russell asked for forgiveness from the members of her community and law enforcement who rallied for her to be found when she vanished.

“My client apologizes for her actions to this community, to the volunteers who were searching for her, to the Hoover Police Department and other agencies as well,” her statement said.

Her confession comes after her parents appeared on NBC's "TODAY" show saying their daughter had been abducted. 

Russell’s ex-boyfriend, Thomar Latrell Simmons, posted on Facebook after she returned home, thanking the community for their support and alluding that she was kidnapped.

In a fresh post on Monday, he wrote: "I strongly feel exactly like you all. blindsided with Carlee’s actions.”

“Myself and my family’s nature was to react in love, and genuine concern. We are disgusted from the outcome of this entire situation,” he added.  

Derzis on Friday said that, from here, the Attorney General’s office will go through the police department’s files and prepare its prosecution. 

Debra Jones reported from Hoover, Marlene Lenthang reported from Chicago.