Police say a US woman who vanished after she allegedly stopped to help a stranded toddler on a busy highway had Googled Liam Neeson’s famous abduction movie Taken earlier that day.
Carlethia “Carlee” Nichole Russell, 25, was reported missing on the night of Thursday July 13 (Friday AEST) in Alabama after calling 911 to report the toddler.
After making the report, she called a relative who claimed they heard her scream.
When police officers arrived within minutes, they found Ms Russell’s car, wig, phone and purse but no sign of her or the child.
The search for Ms Russell was shared on social media across the world, gaining national and global attention.
About 49 hours later she mysteriously reappeared at her home on Saturday July 15 (Sunday AEST), leaving many people wondering what happened and how she got home.
Police release timeline of disappearance
Police have now revealed what Ms Russell told them, along with the revelation they have been unable to verify most of her statement, in hopes to alleviate fear in the community.
Hoover Police Chief Nick Derzis said Ms Russell claimed a man came out the trees and mumbled he was checking on the baby.
“She claimed that the man then picked her up and she screamed,” he told a press conference on Wednesday (Thursday AEST).
She told police she was forced over a fence and into a car, before finding herself in the trailer of a big truck.
“She stated the male was with a female, however she never saw the female, only hearing her voice,” Derzis said.
He said she told detectives the man had orange hair with a big bald spot and she could hear a baby crying.
“She said she was able to escape the 18-wheeler and fled on foot only to be captured again and was put in a car,” Derzis continued.
“She claimed she was blindfolded but not tied up because the captor said they did not want to leave impressions on her wrist.
“She said they took her into a house and made her get undressed. She believes they took pictures of her but she does not remember them having any physical or sexual contact.”
Derzis said Ms Russell told detectives the next day she woke up and was fed by a woman who also played with her hair. At some point she said she was put back in a car and was able to escape.
“She told detectives she ran through lots of woods until she came out near her residence,” he said.
Police explained they wanted to give Ms Russell time to rest before asking additional questions but their requests to interview her again have been denied, with her family saying she was not ready to talk due to trauma.
Carlee Russell’s internet searches
Police worked with the US Secret Service to uncover “several internet searches” in the days leading up to Ms Russell’s disappearance that they said were “very relevant” to the case.
Derzis said they included the search “do you have to pay for an Amber Alert?”, “how to take money from a register without being caught?” and a search for a one-way bus ticket.
“On July 13 at 12.10pm a search for the movie Taken, a film about abduction, was conducted,” he said.
When questioned about what he made of the internet searches, Derzis told reporters he found it “very strange”.
“We want to talk in facts and I do think it’s highly unusual the day that someone gets kidnapped, seven or eight hours before that they were searching the internet, Googling the movie Taken, about an abduction. I find that very strange,” he said.
Police also revealed data from Ms Russell’s phone showed she travelled the equivalent of six football fields while she was on the phone to 911 stating she was following the toddler.
Derzis said he wasn’t saying it couldn’t have happened but he found it “very hard” to understand.
Police said there were no other reports of a toddler along the highway “despite numerous vehicles passing through the area at that time”.
“No one has called to report that a child was missing and the Hoover Police Department cannot locate any evidence of a small child walking down the interstate [highway],” Derzis said.
Police said they would continue the investigation and promised to determine what happened in the 49 hours Ms Russell was missing.
“As you can see there are many questions left to be answered but only Carlee can provide those answers,” Derzis said.
“What we can say is we have been unable to verify most of Carlee’s initial statement made to investigators and we have no reason to believe there is a threat to public safety related to this particular case.”
Ms Russell’s family had earlier said they believed the toddler was used as “bait” by human traffickers to get her out of the car and kidnap her.
Before the press conference Ms Russell’s mother Talitha Robinson-Russell released a statement thanking people for their support, adding that the family had “fully co-operated with authorities … and will continue to so”.
“Carlee has given detectives her statement and hopefully they are pursuing her abductor,” she said, according to WBRC.