The case of Carlee Russell, a 25-year-old woman from Alabama who disappeared for 49 hours in July 2023, has finally been solved.
On July 13, Carlee’s family reported her missing after the nursing student called 911 to report a missing toddler walking on the side of Interstate 459. Days later, Carlee was found safe and sound, but her safe return was far from the real story that has since thrust her into the court of public opinion.
After Carlee’s return, the Hoover, Ala. police department found evidence that disputed Carlee’s claims of being kidnapped. The doubt turned into a social media frenzy, discussing if Carlee really staged her own abduction.
On July 24, 2023, Carlee’s attorney released a statement admitting “there was no kidnapping.” Since then, she has not shared what led her to orchestrate such a damaging crime. Subsequently, those following the story have created their own theories on why Carlee did it.
Why did Carlee Russell do it? Theories have ranged from a lover's dispute to mental health struggles.
Before Carlee ultimately admitted to staging her kidnapping, Hoover Police Chief Nicolas C. Derzis said his team found evidence that suggested Carlee wasn’t telling the truth. The officer stated in a news conference that he couldn’t verify Carlee’s story or that a toddler was present when she went missing.
Chief Derzis also said her Google searches were also suspicious, as she searched for phrases like “one-way bus tickets,” “how to take money from a cash register without getting caught,” and if “someone had to pay for an Amber Alert.”
After discovering Carlee’s search history and the fact that there was never a toddler missing, social media had a frenzy discussing why Carlee lied. The former spa employee became fodder for memes, videos, and online forums.
On Twitter, specifically, online users claimed Carlee was attempting to get her boyfriend Thomar Simmons’s attention. According to a Facebook user named Sharon, who posted about the case on July 17, Thomar cheated on Carlee with an exotic dancer, and she was using her hoax as a ploy for revenge, similar to Gone Girl starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike.
Another theory surrounding Carlee’s case is that she possibly abused drugs during her two-day disappearance. In Sharon's Facebook thread, the user said Carlee’s drug misuse had become so severe she had begun stealing from her job, Woodhouse Spa, before she started her hoax.
Other internet commentators have stated Carlee could have had issues regarding her mental health, going so far as to diagnose her with psychotic paranoia or hallucinations, per The Root. However, Carlee’s parents, Talithia and Carlos Russell, said during their Today Show interview that Carlee was in a “good state,” though they remained tight-lipped about the case.
Carlee Russell’s whereabouts during her 49-hour disappearance remain unknown.
Despite the various theories surrounding why Carlee chose to stage her disappearance that fateful July 2023 night, Carlee hasn’t said much about the case. However, less than two weeks after she made headlines for going missing, her attorney, Emory Anthony, released a statement where Carlee admitted for the first time that her kidnapping was a hoax.
During a televised news conference led by Chief Derzis, Carlee’s lawyer read his client’s statement. In it, the student admitted she was never kidnapped and apologized to those who used their resources to search for her.
"My client apologizes for her actions to this community, to the volunteers who were searching for her, to the Hoover Police Department and other agencies as well," Carlee’s statement read, per NBC News.
And while rumors swirled that Carlee hid out at a Red Roof Inn when she vanished for 49 hours, Hoover Police confirmed they still don’t know where Carlee was during that time, as she hasn’t yet shared that information. Chief Derzis also said at the news conference on July 24 he and his officers haven’t decided if they will press any charges against her but stressed to the local community there isn’t a kidnapper on the loose.
Although Carlee may not be ready to speak, those searching for her have expressed disappointment in her actions. On Tuesday, July 25, 2023, Carlee’s now ex-boyfriend, Thomar, shared on Instagram that he and his family are “disgusted from the outcome of this entire situation” and are “blindsided” by Carlee’s actions.
Thomar’s statement came days after he deleted all his and Carlee’s posts from his timeline and the initial call to action for her safe return.
If you or someone you know needs help, use SAMHSA Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator to find support for mental health and substance use disorders in your area or call 1-800-662-4357 for 24-hour assistance.