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Cops haven’t verified most of Carlee Russell’s story, but she says nude photos were taken while she was missing

Police in Hoover, Alabama, have been investigating the disappearance of the 25-year-old nursing student, who returned home two days after she disappeared.
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Police said Wednesday they've been unable to verify initial statements made by Carlee Russell, the Alabama woman who disappeared last week after she said she saw a toddler walking on the interstate.

But officials did say that before she vanished, she made internet searches about paying for Amber Alerts, how to take money from a register without getting caught and the movie "Taken."

Police also said Russell told them 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. 

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

Police in Hoover, a city about 10 miles south of Birmingham, have been investigating the disappearance of Russell, a 25-year-old nursing student, who returned home two days after she disappeared Thursday night.

Hoover Police Chief Nicholas C. Derzis said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon that what happened in the 49 hours Russell was missing, after she called 911 and said a child was walking on the interstate, remains under investigation.

Derzis said investigators spoke to Russell, who had a small injury on her lip and said her head was hurting, on Sunday. She told police that after she saw the young child walking on the interstate, she was abducted and taken by a male with orange hair and a woman, Derzis said.

“She claimed he then forced her into a car and the next thing she remembers is being in the trailer of an 18-wheeler,” Derzis said. “She stated the male was with a female. However, she never saw the female, only hearing her voice.”

Derzis said Russell told police she managed to escape the next day somewhere in West Hoover and made it home on foot.

But Derzis said investigators have been unable to corroborate many of her claims.

“What we can say is we’ve been unable to verify most of Carlee’s initial statements made to investigators. And we have no reason to believe that there is a threat to the public safety related to this particular case,” he said.

Derzis also said investigators, with the help of the Secret Service, analyzed Russell’s cellphone for the days leading up to her disappearance and the day she vanished. Some of the internet searches included:

  • On July 11, a search for "if you have to pay for an Amber Alert."
  • On Thursday, a search about a one-way bus ticket from Birmingham to Nashville, Tennessee.
  • On Thursday, a search for how to take money from a register without getting caught.
  • On Thursday, a search for the movie “Taken,” a film about abduction starring Liam Neeson.

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

Russell disappeared after she called 911 just after 9:30 p.m. Thursday to report having seen a toddler on Interstate 459 South, Hoover police said. She had also called a relative to report having seen the child and said she was going to help the child before the relative lost contact with her, police said. 

In a statement Tuesday night, police said that they did not find “any evidence of a toddler walking down the interstate” and that there were no additional 911 calls reporting sightings of the child. 

Detectives also said that before she got on the highway, Russell had gone to a Target to buy some snacks. 

When police arrived at the interstate after her 911 call, they found her car, her cellphone, a wig and other items, but not the Target purchases. 

Russell returned home on foot Saturday night. 

Police said Tuesday they obtained security video from Russell’s neighborhood that showed her walking down the sidewalk alone before she arrived home. 

Police responded to the home, and Russell was taken to a hospital, where she was evaluated, treated and released.

Police said Tuesday that detectives spoke to Russell “very briefly upon her return home” and were “waiting for her to be made available to obtain a more detailed statement.”

Russell’s family had no comment about the police news conference Wednesday. In an interview that aired Tuesday on NBC’s “TODAY” show, her parents said their daughter had been abducted. 

They did not share details about what happened in the hours Russell was missing or about how she returned home, citing the investigation. 

“We tried to hug her as best we could, but I had to stand back, because she was not in a good state,” Talitha Robinson-Russell, Russell’s mother, said of the moments after her daughter returned home.