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Carlee Russell turned herself in and has been charged with falsely reporting an incident


By Alisha Ebrahimji, Zoe Sottile and Rebekah Riess, CNN

(CNN) — Carlee Russell, the Alabama woman who admitted to staging her own kidnapping and triggering a 49-hour-long search, turned herself in and has been charged with making false reports.

The 26-year-old is being charged with falsely reporting to law enforcement officers and falsely reporting an incident, both misdemeanors.

She was released on bail, Hoover Police Chief Nick Derzis announced at a news conference.

Her story captured the nation’s attention, but as it turns out, she did not see a toddler on the side of the road, wasn’t kidnapped, did not leave the Hoover area and acted alone, Emory Anthony, Russell’s attorney, said in a statement Monday.

Both misdemeanor charges have a maximum sentence of up to a year in jail and a fine up to $6,000, Derzis said.

“I know many are shocked and appalled that Miss Russell is only being charged with two misdemeanors, despite all the panic and disruption her actions caused,” he said.

“Let me assure you I too share the same frustration,” he went on. “But existing laws only allow the charges that were filed to be filed.”

The investigation will be handled by the office of Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall.

“We don’t see this as a victimless crime,” Marshall said at the Friday news conference. “There were significant hours spent, resources expended as a result of this investigation.” He also cited the “many men and women who are civilians” who helped search for her.

Derzis said no charges have been filed against Russell’s family or any other individuals. Additional charges may be filed as the attorney general’s office works through their investigation, he added.

In the statement from her attorney, Russell apologized to the community for her actions, but did not detail where she was during the 49 hours she was missing.

“We still don’t know where she was,” Derzis told reporters Monday, adding, “Only Carlee knows, and maybe now her attorney.”

What investigators were told happened

On July 13, Russell called 911 to report she saw a small child walking alone along the highway. She said she was driving home from her job in Birmingham, about a 10-mile commute from Hoover.

She then called her sister-in-law, who said she heard Russell scream before losing contact with her, though the line remained open, according to the Hoover Police Department.

When authorities responding to her original 911 call arrived, they found Russell’s vehicle along with her wig, phone, and purse. Neither Russell nor the child were in sight.

Her disappearance sparked a frenzied search effort, with dozens of police officers working to locate the missing nursing student. Police offered a $25,000 reward.

Russell returned home on foot around 10:45 p.m. on July 15, nearly 49 hours after making the 911 call, according to Hoover police.

Investigators spoke with Russell briefly after she returned and said they were “unable to verify” most of her initial statement.

She claimed she had been abducted by a man with orange hair and a bald spot who told her he was checking on the child she had seen, she told police.

She said she was forced into a vehicle after screaming, was blindfolded, and later taken to a house where she was forced to get undressed. Russell also said her abductors took pictures of her, but she did not remember them having any physical or sexual contact with her, she told police.

Russell said after being put back into the vehicle, she was able to escape and ran through the woods before emerging near her home, according to police.

When she got home, she was taken to a hospital, treated, and released.

Russell’s parents appeared on NBC’s “Today” last Tuesday and said she had been 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,” Russell’s mother, Talitha Robinson-Russell, said.

CNN has reached out to her parents for comment.

What investigators know now

Russell’s internet activity cast doubt on her story of being kidnapped. Police found web searches including “Do you have to pay for an Amber Alert?” and “How to take money from a register without being caught.”

Derzis said at an earlier news conference her phone’s search history also included searches for bus tickets from Birmingham to Nashville with a departure date of July 13 and searches for the movie “Taken,” an action film in which a woman is kidnapped by human traffickers.

“I think (the searches) are very relevant to this case,” the chief said, adding he thought her search for “Taken” was very strange.

Russell was the only person who reported a toddler walking down the highway, despite many vehicles passing through the area. The chief said video from highway cameras, which only show someone getting out of the driver’s side door of Russell’s car, has been sent to the FBI for enhancement analysis.

An app on Russell’s phone showed her car traveling 600 yards down the interstate when she said she made the call about the child on the roadside, Derzis said. He said it was hard for him to understand how a child, who Russell said was 3 or 4 years old, could walk very far in bare feet without crying or getting off the road.

Russell’s disappearance has drawn attention to the many unsolved cases of missing Black Americans. According to 2021 FBI data, Black people make up 31% of missing person reports but only 14% of the US population. White people, meanwhile, make up 54% of missing person reports and 76% of the US population.

Derrica Wilson, co-founder of Black and Missing Foundation, previously told CNN she currently has nearly 6,000 cases of missing Black people in her database, most of them unsolved.

False reports like Russell’s are rare, she said.

When asked if Russell’s case could affect searches for missing young women of color in the future, police chief Derzis said, “We investigate every crime to the fullest, just like we have this one.”

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Nicquel Terry Ellis contributed to this report.

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