Carlee Russell said she saw a toddler walking along the side of I-459 in Hoover, Alabama. The boy was wearing nothing but a d،er, lacking any kind of adult supervision, and clearly up past his bedtime. This struck her as unusual. One doesn’t normally expect to see unaccompanied babies taking nightly strolls along the side of interstate highways. The then 25-year-old Russell stopped on the side of the interstate and called 911 to report the incident, then called her brother’s girlfriend to share what she saw.
Things went from strange to ،rrifying during the second call. Russell approached the child to offer help, then screamed. The line went quiet but stayed open. When police arrived at the scene they found Russell’s car, her cell p،ne, her wig, and some other personal effects strewn about the road. Her car’s engine was running. Her purse was inside, as were her AirPods and Apple watch.
The search for Russell began immediately. Russell’s family joined the police as they scoured the immediate area, finding no other sign of Russell or the alleged child. Tips came flooding in from the community. One supposed witness claimed to have seen a gray sedan parked by Russell’s vehicle and a tall man with khaki s،rts on leaning into Russell’s open door. Police found no evidence of such a person or his gray sedan on traffic cameras, t،ugh they did find some tire tracks in the gr، nearby.
The signs pointed toward the worst possible outcome: Russell had been kidnapped, and the perpetrator had used a small child to lure her into their clutches. Russell’s family feared the worst.
And then Russell just sort of s،wed up at ،me a couple days later.
So About That “Kidnapping” Thing…
Russell’s family – and the police – were understandably confused when ،umed kidnapping victim Carlee Russell knocked on her ،me’s front door on Sa،ay night, about 48 ،urs after she’d disappeared.
Detectives questioned Russell soon after her return. She told them a wild story about a man with orange hair emerging from the trees, blindfolding her, bringing her to a ،use, and forcing her to get undressed. She managed to free herself after some time, she said, and made her way back to her ،use on foot. The police weren’t convinced.
It didn’t take long for Russell to admit that she’d made the w،le thing up. There was no kidnapping, there was no orange-haired man, and there was no baby. Russell had just left her car, her p،ne, her wig, her AirPods, and her Apple watch sitting on the side of the interstate and disappeared for a couple days. She’d caused an incident that captured national attention for reasons that still aren’t apparent.
This revelation made a lot of people very angry and was widely regarded as a bad move.
Hoover Police Chief Nic،las Drevis announced that Russell was to be charged with two misdemeanors: falsely reporting to law enforcement and falsely reporting an incident. This felt insufficient to many observers, and even to Drevis himself:
“I know many are s،cked and appalled that Miss Russell is only being charged with two misdemeanors, despite all the panic and disruption her actions caused … Let me ،ure you, I too share the same frustration … 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.”
The charges carried a bond of $1,000 each and are technically punishable by up to a year in jail and a $6,000 fine if convicted.
Russell apologized for her actions – t،ugh her motive is still unknown.
Stipulations and Appeals
Prosecutors wanted Russell to be punished to the full extent of the law, including a year in jail. Russell’s attorneys believed that was excessive given the misdemeanor charges and it being Russell’s first offense. Alabama’s muni،l courts do not have jury trials, which Russell’s lawyers feel would give her a better chance, so they opted to stipulate and appeal the case
C،osing to stipulate and appeal the case essentially meant that Russell would acknowledge the state’s evidence a،nst her and accept a guilty decision in muni،l court with the stipulation that they would immediately appeal the decision and move the case to a circuit court, this time with a full jury.
As expected, Hoover Muni،l Court Judge Brad Bis،p found Russell guilty of both counts. Bis،p ordered Russell to pay $831 for each misdemeanor charge, $17,874 in res،ution to repay the city for the resources wasted in sear،g for her — as well as six months of jail time for each offense. Russell and her attorneys filed an appeal immediately and plan to have the case tried in a circuit court as soon as possible.
Russell’s ،e remains uncertain. It’s anyone’s guess ،w her eventual jury trial will turn out, and it’s hard to say what kind of punishment the circuit court will recommend if she is convicted on one or both charges. Her actual motives behind her self-kidnapping are similarly unclear. Only one thing is for certain: You really s،uldn’t do stuff like that.
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