Law enforcement authorities in Alabama are baffled after a 25-year-old woman mysteriously disappeared less than five minutes after calling 911 Thursday evening to report that she had spotted a toddler who appeared to be wandering alone along the side of the interstate.
Authorities say Carlethia “Carlee” Nichole Russell called 911 at about 9:34 p.m. Thursday after seeing the child walking alongside I-459 South. Immediately after notifying authorities about the discovery, Russell phoned a family member and relayed the same details, telling them she had stopped her car to check on the child.
“The family member lost contact with her, but the line remained open,” the Hoover Police Department wrote in a press release. “Officers who were already en route to the location of the initial 911 call located the female’s vehicle and some of her belongings nearby but were unable to find her or a child in the area.”
Russell’s mother told Birmingham NBC affiliate WVMT-TV that Russell was on the phone with her sister-in-law after the 911 call but said the call had a disturbingly ominous ending.
“My daughter-in-law could hear her ask if the child was OK, and the child didn’t respond — at least she didn’t hear him or her respond,” Talitha Robinson-Russell said. “Then she heard our daughter scream.”
Investigators say that Russell got off of work from her job at The Summit in Birmingham at about 8:20 p.m. Thursday. It is believed that she then stopped to pick up something to eat from a business at The Colonnade before heading back to her home in Hoover, Alabama, and allegedly encountering the toddler by the interstate. Hoover is located about 10 miles south of Birmingham.
On the 911 call, Russell told the emergency dispatcher that she had stopped near mile marker 11 between the Galleria flyover and Exit 10 leading to Highway 150. Police have only been able to identify a single witness from the area who told investigators they remembered “possibly seeing a gray vehicle with a light-complected male standing outside of Carlee [Russell’s] vehicle.”
The timing of Russell’s disappearance is particularly confounding, as an officer in the area arrived within three minutes of her calling 911, according to a report from AL.com.
“Her car door was open, the engine was running, and they found her phone on the ground, along with her wig and her hat,” Russell’s mother told reporters on Friday. “Her purse was still in the car. Her Apple watch was in her purse, and her AirPods as well.”
Other than the call from Russell, police said that they had not received any other phone calls about a missing small child in the area.
Police have asked anyone with any information regarding Russell’s whereabouts to immediately contact Detective Brad Fountain at 205-444-7562. She is described as a 5 foot 4, 25-year-old Black woman weighing between 150 and 160 pounds. She was last seen wearing a black shirt, black pants, and a pair of white Nike shoes.
A reward of $25,000 is being offered for information leading to Russell’s safe return. An anonymous donor has offered $20,000, and Crimestoppers is offering an additional $5,000.
Russell’s parents have gathered volunteers and been searching the area, saying they will “scour the earth” to find their daughter, according to WVMT-TV. They also reportedly said that they believe the child their daughter saw was being used as “bait” to lure Russell out of the car.
Investigators on Friday afternoon said they were not committing to any single theory for Russell’s disappearance.
“We currently are investigating every possibility,” Hoover Police Lt. Daniel Lowe said at a news conference. “We’re certainly leaving nothing off the table.”
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Carlethia Nichole Russell vanished after 911 call: Cops
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