Police shared new details Wednesday on the case of Carlethia “Carlee” Nichole Russell, the Alabama woman who went missing for 49 hours last week after calling 911 to report a toddler walking alone on the side of the highway, saying investigators “have been unable to verify” most of Russell’s initial statement.
At a news conference, Hoover Police Chief Nick Derzis said the investigation continues but authorities do not believe there is a threat to the community, which is just south of Birmingham.
Derzis told reporters no one has reported a missing child and investigators have found no evidence of one.
The chief said detectives spoke briefly to Russell once and they want to interview her again.
Russell’s mother has said she believes her daughter was abducted before she returned home two days later on foot. “Carlee has given detectives her statement and hopefully they are pursuing her abductor,” Talitha Robinson-Russell said in a statement to CNN affiliate WBRC.
Derzis told reporters that investigators have learned Carlee Russell took items from work, stopped at a restaurant to get food and bought snacks at Target before she went missing. He also spoke about web searches on her cell phone in the lead-up to her disappearance.
CNN has reached out to her parents for comment.
Russell was driving Thursday to her home in Hoover from her job in Birmingham, about 10 miles to the north, when she called 911 to say she was stopping her car to check on a child and then called a family member who lost contact with her – though the line remained open, according to the Hoover Police Department.
Here’s what we know about the investigation:
Russell spoke one time to investigators
Police haven’t spoken to Russell since just after she returned home Saturday.
Derzis told reporters she told investigators she got out of the vehicle Thursday to check on the child and a man came out of the trees and mumbled that he was checking on the baby.
“She claimed that the man then picked her up and she screamed,” he said. According to the chief, Russell told police the man made her go over a fence and she was forced into a car.
“The next thing she remembers is being in the trailer of an 18-wheeler. She stated that the male was with a female, however, she never saw the female, only hearing her voice. She also told detectives she could hear a baby crying,” Derzis said.
Russell told detectives that her abductor had orange hair with a bald spot. She told them at one point she was able to escape the 18-wheeler but was caught again and put into a car.
“She claimed she was blindfolded but was not tied up because the captors said they did not want to leave impressions on her wrists. She said that they took her into a house and made her get undressed. She believes they took pictures of her but does not remember them having any physical or sexual contact,” he added.
Russell told police the next day she woke up and the woman fed her cheese crackers and played with her hair.
The chief said Russell told police she was able to escape after being put back in the vehicle. She said she ran through woods before coming out near her home, Derzis said.
Russell came home around 10:45 p.m. Saturday, returning on foot, according to Hoover police. Authorities said she was taken to a hospital, treated and released.
Detectives want to speak to her again.
“The family has stated to us that they didn’t think that in her mental state right now because of trauma of the incident, that she’s not ready to talk,” the chief told reporters.
Her parents appeared on NBC’s “Today” on Tuesday and said she was abducted.
“She definitely fought for her life. 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,” Robinson-Russell said.
Phone reveals variety of searches
After police found Carlee Russell’s cell phone Thursday, they looked for information on it and discovered web searches that included “Do you have to pay for an amber alert?” and “How to take money from a register without being caught.”
Derzis said searches for bus tickets from Birmingham to Nashville with a departure date of July 13 and for the movie “Taken” were also in the history on Russell’s phone.
On the same day of her disappearance someone searched on her work computer for information about Amber alerts, including one about the maximum age, according to Derzis.
“I think (the searches) are very relevant to this case,” the chief said, adding that he thought googling “Taken,” a film about an abduction, was very strange.
Police found personal items and restaurant takeout
When police arrived at Russell’s car last Thursday, they found her wig and cell phone in the grass near her vehicle and her purse was on the front seat of her car, but there was no sign of her or the child. There was food from a restaurant in the car.
Police didn’t find the snacks that she bought at Target after leaving work nor did they locate items she allegedly concealed at work before leaving – a dark-colored bathrobe, a roll of toilet paper and “other items belonging to the business,” Derzis said.
Adding to the mystery, Derzis said police have not found any evidence of a toddler walking down the interstate, nor did they receive additional calls about it despite numerous vehicles passing through that area. The chief said video from highway cameras, which only show someone get out of the driver’s side door of her car, has been sent to the FBI for enhancement analysis.
Russell’s 911 call remains the “only report of a child on the interstate” and no one has reported a child missing, Derzis said.
An app on her phone showed her car traveled 600 yards down the interstate as she made the call of the child on the roadside, he said. Derzin said it was hard for him to understand how a child, who Russell said on a 911 call was 3 or 4 years old, could walk that far in bare feet without crying or getting out in the road.
“There are many questions left to be answered, but only Carlee can provide those answers,” the chief said at Wednesday’s news conference.
Mother: Russell screamed on call with sister-in-law
On Thursday at around 8:20 p.m., Russell left her job at a business in Birmingham. Surveillance cameras at the business showed her concealing items before she left, according to Derzis. After work, she went to pick up food before driving south on Interstate 459 toward Hoover, police have said.
After picking up her food order, Russell stopped at a Target and purchased granola bars and Cheez-Its, the chief said.
At around 9:34 p.m., Hoover’s dispatch center received a 911 call from Russell, who reported seeing a toddler in a diaper walking on the side of the interstate.
Russell told both the 911 operator and, later, a family member that she was stopping to check on the child, police said.
According to a recording of the call released Wednesday, Russell tells the 911 operator she isn’t with the child because she is still in the car. She says the child has on a white T-shirt and what looks like a diaper. She is told to keep an eye on the child and that officers are on their way.
Russell was on the phone with her sister-in-law, who could hear Russell asking someone if they were OK, Russell’s mother told WBRC. There was no audible response, and then the sister-in-law heard Russell scream, Robinson-Russell said.
Russell returned home and ‘banged on the door’
Derzis told WBRC earlier that Russell showed up at her family’s front door Saturday night, but officers weren’t sure how she got there. “She walked up, banged on the door and that was her,” he said.
On Tuesday, police said they obtained surveillance video from Russell’s neighborhood that shows her walking down the sidewalk alone before she got to her home.
Fire department radio traffic revealed that medics were dispatched to her home on a call about an “unresponsive but breathing” person, police said, adding that was the term used by the dispatcher relaying information from what a 911 caller told the emergency communicator.
“When first responders arrived on scene, they found Ms. Russell conscious and speaking and she was transported in that condition,” police said. “She was later treated and released from a local hospital.”
Russell’s mother told NBC that when she reunited with her daughter, they “tried to hug as best they could, but I had to stand back because she was not in a good state. So, we had to stand back and let medical professionals work with her.”
CNN’s Zoe Sottile, Joe Sutton, Amy Simonson, Rebekah Riess and Chenelle Woody contributed to this report.
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