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Carlee Russell found

Source: Hoover Police Department

As people rejoice about the safe return of a Black woman who went missing for two days in Alabama, a larger debate has broken out on social media over whether the public is entitled to know exactly what happened to her.

What we know

Carlee Russell called 911 on Thursday night to report she saw a toddler walking alongside a busy highway in the city of Hoover before informing her family she was stopping to secure the child’s safety. But as the 25-year-old aspiring nurse was on the phone with her family, they say the last thing they heard was a shriek before she disappeared for 48 hours.

MORE: Carlee Russell’s Disappearance Draws Attention To Disturbing Rates Of Missing Black Women

When the police showed up within minutes, all they found was Russell’s car idling on the side of Interstate 459 South with its door open and her personal belongings inside.

In that time span, a social media campaign raising awareness of Russell’s disappearance quickly mobilized, as did a multi-law enforcement search effort, all while generating a significant amount of coverage in the mainstream and niche presses to keep her name a trending topic over the weekend. The effort was thanks in no small part to calls from Russell’s family as well as the Hoover Police Department to not rest until their loved one was located.

In particular, Russell’s family suggested that she may have been lured by a toddler that was used as “bait.”

But just like that, late Saturday night, Russell found her way to the home of her parents, who called 911 to report her safe return.

The questions

Everyone seemingly breathed a collective sigh of relief. But for some, that relief quickly turned to curiosity as there were several questions that were raised during Russell’s disappearance that remain unanswered. Chief among them seemingly is what exactly happened to Russell? Similarly urgent was the question of whether there is a toddler missing.

But when Russell’s boyfriend posted on his social media that she “was literally fighting for her life for 48 hours” and referenced “her kidnapper,” the allegation of a criminal effort was made.

All of a sudden the aforementioned questions were joined by one more: Is there a threat to the public?

Is the public entitled to know more?

Russell’s family has said they would offer an update when the time is right for them, and the Hoover Police Department urged the public in a Facebook post “for their wishes to be respected regarding their privacy.”

Notably, HPD added: “As we continue to investigate we will release information that is determined to be factual and pertinent to the public.”

The police also said, “Carlee’s 911 call remains the only timely report of a child on the interstate.”

Hoover Police Chief Nick Derzis suggested his department will get around to interviewing Russell when they get around to doing it, and not a moment sooner.


Absent from HPD’s most recent update from Sunday is any reference to any potential criminal activity as alleged by Russell’s boyfriend. Because the police’s main job is public safety, there were rumblings on social media about what appeared to be a lackadaisical response to the allegation that Russell was kidnapped and the suggestion by her family that a toddler was used as “bait.”

What about them, people asked on social media.

Social media debate ensues

Reesie Colbert, founder of Black Women Views Media and a social media influencer, encouraged anyone with inquiring minds to contact the police department to satisfy their curiosity. But, she urged, leave Russell’s family alone.

“It’s nasty work to believe that because your thirst for entertainment has not been quenched by Carlee Russell and her family that something is off,” Colbert tweeted. “They are entitled to privacy, period.”

Cornell William Brooks, the former NAACP president, echoed that sentiment.

“The public’s ‘right to know,’ however, does not include a right to know about any trauma she may have endured,” Brooks tweeted. “She & her family deserve privacy, time, & healing.”

But there have been others on social media suggesting that having questions about public safety and the toddler along with being happy Russell is safe and having curiosity about the entire incident “can all be valid at the same time.”

Some even went so far as to suggest Russell’s family is guilty of hypocrisy after pleading with the public for help and then just as quickly demanding privacy once she was found safe.

And no story is complete in 2023 without a conspiracy theory, with rumors and unverified reports also running rampant on social media.

Soon, the social media conversation surrounding Russell became one of misogynoir, with tweets claiming people seemed disappointed that a Black woman who went missing wasn’t found dead.

Those asking more questions were quickly criticized for being too nosey and not minding their own business.


Lost in the mix of the social media debate over who is entitled to know what is the fact that no matter what happened, Russell defied the odds as millions of other Black women who have disappeared in recent years remain missing.

“I will say this… I am happy to hear that #CarleeRussell is home safe and receiving care. People need to wait to hear all the facts prior to continuing this online discourse about what happened,” an attorney and former Georgia NAACP president Gerald Griggs tweeted. “I am also glad that her case got this much attention as so many missing black women and girls don’t. Let’s normalize this response in more cases.”

What’s the right answer?

Because this is such a unique situation, who is to say who is entitled to know what? With that said, it’s seemingly natural to want to know more after becoming invested in a story based on horrific circumstances – a young Black woman went missing and is likely traumatized by her experience regardless of what exactly happened. Her mental and physical health should be prioritized above all else.

Typically, though, once the police become involved, any ensuing investigation becomes public information. That means at some point, the public will be informed as to what happened, where Russell was during those 48 hours she was missing, how she managed to return home as well as the status of any alleged toddler and kidnapper.

Until then, there’s rarely much use for speculation and innuendo, as shown by the social media debate above.


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