Alabama police released the 911 call of the woman who said she was abducted while helping a toddler on the side of a highway, as they continued to poke holes in her story and imply she staged her own kidnapping.
Nursing student Carlethia “Carlee” Nichole Russell, 25, was heard on the call reporting that a toddler dressed in a t-shirt and diaper was walking barefoot along a busy interstate at night — and promising the emergency dispatcher she would stay on the scene until police arrived.
After she got off the phone with the 911 operator before 9:30 p.m. on July 13, Russell, 25, called a relative to tell them about the supposed wandering tot.
She then mysteriously vanished, only to return home two days later claiming that she had been abducted and held captive.
During a press conference Wednesday, officials with the Hoover Police Department said they could not confirm Russell’s account concerning the toddler — and questioned her kidnapping claims.
Cops played Russell’s 911 call she made around 9:24 p.m. on the night of her disappearance.
“Hi, I am on Interstate 459 and there just a kid just walking by their selves,” Russell, sounding calm and collected, tells the operator.
The operator asks the caller to give her exact location on the interstate, and Russell replies that she is positioned just before exit 10, heading southbound towards Tuscaloosa.
She adds that the child is walking in the same direction on the right side of the road.
When asked how old the child looks, Russell says, ‘like a toddler, like, maybe like 3 or 4?”
The nursing student tells the operator that she has pulled over and was looking at the tot, but had not gotten out of her car.
“Do you mind staying and keeping an eye on them until we get there?” the dispatcher asks Russell.
“Year, yeah, sure, yeah,” she replies.
Russell then says she had not spoken to the toddler, whom she described as a white “little boy.”
Asked to describe the child’s clothing, Russell replies: “It’s a white t-shirt, and it doesn’t look like he has any pants on. It looks like a diaper.”
After giving her name and the description of her car — a red Mercedes Benz sedan — Russell tells the operator the toddler does not seem to be injured — but she noted that he appeared to be walking barefoot along the highway.
The emergency despatcher again urged Russell to remain at the scene, saying that officers are on their way, and she said “OK,” before the conversation ends.
When cops arrived a short time later, they found Russell’s car, cellphone and wig but were unable to locate her or a small child in the area.
Russell’s mother, Talitha Russell, told NBC’s “Today” show Tuesday that her daughter was abducted and “fought for her life” to escape her kidnappers.
But Hoover Police Chief Nick Derzis told reporters that his detectives had so far been “unable to verify most of Carlee’s initial statement.”
Police previously said they have “not located any evidence of a toddler walking down the interstate, nor did we receive any additional calls about a toddler walking down the interstate, despite numerous vehicles passing through that area as depicted by the traffic camera surveillance video.”
She told detectives she was taken by a man who came out of the trees when she stopped to check on the child, forced into a car and then an 18-wheel truck while blindfolded, but not restrained, and held at a home where a woman fed her cheese crackers, Derzis said.
At some point, Russell told cops she was put in a vehicle again but managed to escape and run through the woods to her neighborhood.
In the days leading up to her disappearance, the nursing student searched for information on her cellphone about Amber Alerts, the Liam Neeson-starring thriller “Taken” about a woman’s abduction in Paris, and a one-way bus ticket from Birmingham to Nashville departing the day she vanished, Derzis said.
Russell’s phone also showed she traveled about 600 yards while telling a 911 operator she was following the boy on the side of the highway.
“I do think it’s highly unusual the day that someone gets kidnapped that seven or eight hours before that they’re searching the internet, Googling the movie ‘Taken’ about an abduction,” Derzis said. “I find that very, very strange.”
Her family told police she was traumatized and not ready for a second interview with detectives, he said.
“As you can see, there are many questions left to be answered, but only Carlee can provide those answers,” he said, later adding, “We want to know the truth.”
Human trafficking experts have thrown cold water on the family’s contention that the purported missing toddler was used as “bait” by the supposed kidnappers, saying “this is not a tactic that traffickers use.”