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Carlee Russell found

Source: Hoover Police Department

A Black woman who mysteriously went missing in Alabama in an incident that sparked national media attention and mobilized a statewide search by law enforcement and others has been found safe.

To be sure, Carlethia Nichole “Carlee” Russell actually found her own way back to her family, who had been worried sick about their loved one since the 25-year-old aspiring nurse disappeared late Thursday night from the side of a major highway following reports of a toddler walking alone there.

But aside from those few new details, little to nothing has been publicly disclosed about Russell’s whereabouts after her parents suggested she may have been lured by someone using the toddler as “bait.”

Russell’s safe return came hours after enhanced video surveillance footage from Interstate 459 South in Hoover showed her car pull over with its hazard signals on as a figure believed to be her exited the vehicle and ultimately disappeared.

Speculation ran rampant on social media about an alleged shadowy figure in the footage amid fears of Russell falling victim to a human trafficking scheme.

What happened to Carlee Russell?

Hoover Police Chief Nicholas Derzis was light on details when announcing Russell was alive and safe after arriving at her family’s home late Saturday night, WBRC reported.

“She walked up, banged on the door, and that was her,” Derzis told reporters.

Russell was reportedly “dropped off at home and appeared to be in shock.”

Derzis said an investigation into what happened to Russell is ongoing.

“We work with facts,” Derzis continued. “With social media, you got so many people that think they know what’s taken place. Right now, we’re just very pleased that she’s home.”

The police chief said Russell would eventually be interviewed but for now there is relief she was found alive and safe.

“The first thing is to give Carlee and family a little time to get themselves back together,” Derzis said. “I know it’s been a tough experience for them. When we think it’s time to sit down and have a conversation with Carlee and try to get some facts, we’ll do that.”

Derzis emphasized to reporters that “the police department is very happy. We wanted her to come home safe and sound – and we’ll hope that’s what happened here. The investigation portion… we’ll get to, but to me the main deal is making sure that she got home safe with her family. And I couldn’t be more excited, and I hope the community feels the same way.”

Russell is reportedly being treated at a local hospital.

How did Carlee Russell go missing?

Russell called 911 around 9:30 p.m. Thursday night to report an unaccompanied toddler walking alongside the highway and later told her family that she was going to check on the child herself, police said. But that was the last known contact anybody had with Russell before her return Saturday night.

When police responded to the call Thursday night, Russell’s red Mercedes was found pulled over on the side of the highway still idling with the driver’s side door open, but no one was there – neither the toddler nor Russell. Notably, police said Friday there have been no reports of a missing toddler.

Russell’s parents pointed to a report from a trucker that a car had pulled in front of the Mercedes, possibly impeding its progress and forcing it to the side of the road, where it was found. Citing that report, Talitha and Carlos Russell suggested the possibility that the toddler was being used as “bait” in a nefarious effort to lure their daughter from her car, according to WVTM 13, a local NBC affiliate based in Birmingham.

Talitha Russell recounted to what happened:

At 9:36 p.m., her mother, Talitha Russell, said her daughter was on the phone with her brother’s girlfriend. Carlee pulled over after saying she saw a child that appeared to be 3 or 4 years old.

“She probably let her guard down thinking 911 would be there in a second‚” Talitha Russell said.

“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,’’ Talitha Russell said. “All you hear on her phone is background noise from the interstate.”

“Her car door was open,” Talitha said. “They found her phone on the ground, along with her wig and her hat…Her purse was still in the car. Her Apple watch was in her purse and her Air Pods as well.”

Talitha Russell said a tip was called in from a trucker.

“He saw a gray car with a tall brown skinned man with khaki shorts on leaning over in the car,’’ Talitha Russell said.

Multiple rewards combined to balloon to $50,000 in the hours before Russell was found.

This is a developing story that will be updated with additional details as they become available.


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