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What The Hell Is Going On With The Carlee Russell Case?

By Brian Richards | Miscellaneous | July 20, 2023 |

By Brian Richards | Miscellaneous | July 20, 2023 |


On Thursday, July 13, while driving home from work, Carlee Russell placed a phone call to 911 shortly after 9:30 PM to inform the dispatcher that she had spotted an unaccompanied toddler walking along the highway, and that she was stopping her vehicle so she could check on him. After her phone call to 911, Carlee then called her sister-in-law for a conversation that lasted about two minutes. During that conversation, which occurred around 9:36 PM, Carlee went missing. According to the statement given by Talitha Russell, Carlee’s mother, Carlee was heard screaming over the phone during her conversation with her sister-in-law. When police arrived at Carlee’s last known location, all they found was her car, cell phone, wig, purse, and Apple Watch, which was located inside her purse. There was also no trace of any of the snacks that Carlee had purchased from Target on her way home earlier that evening.

After photos of Carlee Russell were shared with the public via news broadcasts and social media, along with a $50,000 reward for any information leading to her return, Carlee was found two days after she was declared missing. She had returned home on foot, and when police were informed of this, she was taken to a hospital for evaluation and treatment before being released.

The news of Carlee’s survival and return home brought much joy and relief to Black Twitter, who were sharing and retweeting photos and information about her case, while also hoping for a positive ending to this story. Others on Twitter, however, particularly the “I’ve watched every episode of Criminal Minds, and I listen to every true-crime podcast there is, especially My Favorite Murder” Twitter expressed their doubts about her disappearance, and couldn’t help but let everyone know that this case left them wanting to ask questions. Black Twitter didn’t hesitate to snap back at these doubters and naysayers who felt obligated to know what happened to Carlee Russell, and who demanded to know the exact details of what happened to her. Some of them even went as far as hacking into Carlee’s medical records to gain more information about her and even admitted to doing so on social media for the whole world to see. Even Carlee’s mother went on Facebook to tell everyone to back off and leave her daughter alone, and give her the time and space she needed to continue her physical and mental recovery.

Yesterday afternoon, some more gasoline was added to the “Is Carlee Russell telling the whole truth about what happened to her? I’m just asking questions!” fire, as a press conference was held in Hoover, Alabama, where Police Chief Nick Derzis offered more details regarding Carlee’s disappearance, as well as the investigation.

After returning home, Russell gave investigators her account of what happened on the night of July 13. She said a man came out of the woods and mumbled that he was checking on the child, she said, according to police. Russell told officers the man then forced her over a fence and into a car.

Russell said the next thing she remembers is being in the trailer of a truck with the man, who Russell said had orange hair, and was accompanied by a woman. She also said she could hear a baby crying.

Russell told police she escaped, but was recaptured and put into a car and blindfolded. Russell said she was then taken to a house, where she was undressed.

The next day, she said, the woman fed her cheese crackers and played with her hair.

Russell said at some point she was put back into a vehicle. She claims she was able to escape while it was in the West Hoover area, and ran through the woods to get home.

The details from the press conference that really made people raise their eyebrows was when they described Carlee’s Internet searches in the days leading up to her disappearance.

The search queries included:

July 11, 7:30 a.m. — “Do you have to pay for an Amber alert”

July 13, 1:03 a.m. — “How to take money from a register without being caught”

July 13, 2:13 a.m. — “Birmingham bus station”

July 13, 2:35 a.m. — “One way bus ticket from Birmingham to Nashville” with a departure date of July 13

July 13, 12:10 p.m. — “The movie ‘Taken’”

From Associated Press News:

[Carlee Russell’s] phone also showed she traveled about 600 yards while telling a 911 operator she was following a 3- or 4-year-old child in a diaper on the side of the highway, Derzis said. She has not talked to investigators a second time.

“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 to talk again, 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.”

As it started to become more likely that Carlee Russell wasn’t actually abducted, and that she disappeared of her own volition, it didn’t take long for Black Twitter to crack many a joke about Carlee Russell, and about the entire situation, to the point where “Now, Carlee” began to trend on Twitter. It also didn’t take long for Black Twitter to state that even though what Carlee may have done is undeniably f-cked-up, they understood why she did it. They may not have full knowledge of what Carlee may have been dealing with, and what she was going through, before making that phone call to the police. But as a Black woman? They understood how she might have felt completely overwhelmed by life, by whatever hardships and responsibilities that were being dumped into her lap, and how she just felt the need to simply disappear, to leave everyone and everything behind without any explanation, whether for a week, a month, or even a lifetime. Almost all of us have had such thoughts about wanting to do the same, myself included.

Social media also couldn’t help but point out that this entire situation with Carlee Russell revealed that she was nothing more than another Jussie Smollett, a.k.a. “Juicy Smooyay,” and of course, the comparison was made so frequently between the two individuals that “Carlee Smollett” also became a trending topic on Twitter. Not only did they say that Carlee was nothing but a liar and that she was as bad as Jussie, but they also said that what Carlee Russell did by lying about being abducted and fooling the public into worrying about her safety and wasting police resources by having them search for her, would make missing person investigations into the actual abductions and disappearances of Black women even more difficult. Because the police and the general public will refuse to believe what they’re told about these missing Black women, and instead of putting valuable time and effort into finding them, they will simply treat it all like it’s The Boy Who Cried Wolf. No matter how you feel about Carlee Russell, there is some undeniable truth to this. And if the police continue to dig, and if that causes things to continue getting worse for her, there will be consequences that she’s going to suffer.

But what we won’t do, not today or on any other day that ends in Y, is pretend that cops and most of the general public give anything resembling a f-ck about Black women, or about young Black girls. (“But lying about being kidnapped will just make the police waste their money and their time to try and find you!” If it means that police will do something else with their time and their needlessly large budgets other than gather in large numbers so they can arrest someone for not paying their subway fare, or for smoking a cigarette near a park? Then so be it.) What we won’t do is pretend as if missing Black women and Black girls get the same treatment and coverage from cops and from the news media as missing white women and girls do. What we won’t do is pretend that respectability politics are anything but some bullsh-t, and that dressing, talking, or acting like you’re truly one of “the good ones” will never be enough to make your life matter in the eyes of those who hate you simply because you exist. And what we especially won’t do is pretend that when it comes to Black women and girls being abducted, abused, victimized, or killed? The responses from far too many people involve asking what these women and girls said or did to make this happen, or to ask whether or not the truth is even being told by these Black women and girls (or by their loved ones who have survived them) who are speaking out about what happened to them. Hence why lots of women on Black Twitter stated that they had no regrets for believing in Carlee, and they’d rather believe Black women when their well-being is possibly in danger rather than not believe them, and refuse to support them when they might need it most.

And many of these responses will come from people who will gladly support the police and lick their boots every chance they get, no matter what they do to Black people and to others in underrepresented communities, and no matter how often they will lie without hesitation or regret about what they do.

If you’re upset and disappointed about Carlee Russell because you truly believe that she isn’t telling the truth about being abducted like she’s the Black version of Amy Dunne from Anne Hathaway’s favorite romcom, Gone Girl? That is your right, and I’m stating the obvious in saying so. But you are not going to log on to Megan Thee Stallion’s Internet and tell us (right after you’ve finished tweeting #FreeToryLanez, right after you’ve finished saying more horrible things about Meghan Markle, and right after you demand that we all apologize to Jonathan Majors for jumping to conclusions and ruining his career) that this world believes in or cares about Black women and girls when their backs are against the wall, and when their names are becoming hashtags for all the wrong reasons. Because Black women know better. Because if they don’t know or don’t remember, this world will be more than happy to remind them. And because Black women know that when it comes to their safety and survival, they are truly all they’ve got.