HOOVER, Ala. (AP) — A 25-year-old Alabama woman who disappeared for two days after calling 911 to report a toddler wandering on the highway told investigators she was abducted and forced into a car, but they have been unable to verify her account and turned up evidence that calls it into doubt, police said Wednesday.
Hoover Police Chief Nick Derzis said detectives are still investigating where Carlee Russell was and what happened to her between the time she went missing and her return home on Saturday. But he also said investigators have been “unable to verify most of Carlee’s initial statement.”
In the days before her disappearance, she searched for information on her cellphone about Amber Alerts, a movie about a woman’s abduction and a one-way bus ticket from Birmingham, Alabama, to Nashville, Tennessee. Her phone also showed she traveled about 600 yards while telling a 911 operator she was following a 3- or 4-year-old child in a diaper on the side of the highway, Derzis said.
Carlee Russell’s mother, Talitha Russell, told NBC’s “Today” show on Tuesday that her daughter was abducted and fought for her life when she disappeared.
Carlee Russell was not in a “good state” when she got back and needed medical care, Talitha Russell said. She said her daughter gave detectives a statement so they could “continue to pursue her abductor.”
“There were moments when she physically had to fight for her life, and there were moments when she had to mentally fight for her life,” Talitha Russell said.
Police said later Tuesday that detectives had not reached any conclusions about the disappearance. Investigators spoke to Carlee Russell briefly and were waiting for her to be made available for a more detailed statement. But they said they did not uncover any evidence of a toddler walking on the interstate.
“Numerous evidentiary items are still being evaluated, and those items are key in the process of determining exactly what took place in the approximately 49 hours Carlee was missing,” Hoover police said in a statement via Facebook.
Surveillance video from the Russells’ neighborhood showed Carlee Russell walking down the sidewalk alone before arriving at her home. She was conscious and talking when first responders arrived, and later treated and released from a hospital, police said.
Police have said Carlee Russell called a 911 operator Thursday night and then a relative and told both of them she saw a toddler in a diaper on the side of Interstate 459 and was stopping to check on him. When officers arrived at the location, they found her car, cellphone and wig but were unable to find her or a child in the area.
Talitha Russell told al.com last week that her daughter was headed home after leaving work and stopping to get food. Carlee Russell was on the phone with her brother’s girlfriend when they lost contact.
“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. “From there, all you hear on her phone is background noise from the interstate.”
A single witness reported possibly seeing a gray vehicle and a man standing outside Carlee Russell’s vehicle, police have said.
Police said Tuesday that she also stopped for snacks on the way home, but none of the food was found in her car or with her cellphone and wig.
Hoover is about 10 miles (16 kilometers) south of Birmingham.
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