Carlee Russell charged by Alabama authorities for hoax report of kidnapping

Alabama authorities announced on Friday that Carlethia “Carlee” Nichole Russell, a 25-year-old nursing student, was charged with two misdemeanors for falsely claiming that she was kidnapped earlier this month.

Russell was charged with falsely reporting to law enforcement and falsely reporting an incident, said Hoover Police Chief Nick Derzis. Both charges are Class A misdemeanors that carry a maximum punishment of one year in jail and could carry a $6,000 fine upon conviction, said Derzis. The charges were filed in municipal court, said Derzis.

Russell turned herself in to law enforcement voluntarily and was booked and processed at the Hoover City Jail, said Derzis. She was released on a $1,000 bond for each of the charges, Derzis said.

Derzis said he “shares the same frustrations” as people who called and emailed his office that only misdemeanor charges could be filed against Russell. He said he was going to ask state legislators to “add enhancements” to current legislation for people who report a false crime.

Derzis also requested the assistance of Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall for further investigation into the case. Marshall said on Friday his office will “continue to monitor if additional charges are warranted in this case,” and that it is not uncommon for the attorney general’s office to be involved in a misdemeanor case investigation.

During the Friday news conference, a journalist asked if the police would treat future missing persons investigations of young Black and Brown women as seriously as they treated Russell’s after the ordeal Russell caused. Derzis responded that they would and Marshall echoed that, noting that he’s been in law enforcement for 27 years.

“I’ve never seen anybody interested in the color of your skin in investigating a criminal case, and I expect, regardless of your gender, your race, when that report is filed, that Alabama law enforcement’s going to do its job,” Marshall said.

Carlee Russell is seen in a photo provided by the Hoover Police Department in Alabama.
Carlee Russell is seen in a photo provided by the Hoover Police Department in Alabama.

Russell had called 911 on July 13 to report a toddler missing on the side of the highway. Then after calling a family member, she disappeared without a trace, triggering a massive search involving local, state and federal agencies. Just two days after she went missing, Russell appeared at her parents’ house around 10:45 p.m. on July 15, police said.

She told the Hoover Police Department a man had picked her up, forced her over the highway fence and into a vehicle. Russell told police she was kept in a truck trailer with a man with orange hair and a woman. Russell told police her abductors took photos of her and fed her cheese crackers.

Investigators grew increasingly suspicious of her story because they couldn’t find any additional evidence of a missing toddler on a highway, even though numerous other cars had passed that stretch of highway, the Hoover Police Department said. They also discovered a series of online searches including ones for “Amber Alerts” and “how to take money from a register without getting caught” Russell had made prior to the kidnapping.

A week after her return, Russell issued a statement through her attorney to the Alabama community saying the kidnapping was made up, there was no baby, and “this was a single act.” Through her lawyer, she asked for forgiveness from the community, the volunteers who searched for her, and the Hoover Police Department.

-Aliza Chasan, S. Dev and Alex Sundby contributed reporting.

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