Carlee Russell's Parents Believe An Abductor Could "Absolutely" Be At Large

The 25-year-old Alabama woman was missing for 48 hours after calling 911 to report seeing a toddler walking alone along the highway.

by Jen McGuire

When 25-year-old Carlee Russell went missing after stopping on the side of a highway outside of Hoover, Alabama on Thursday night, her parents were justifiably terrified. Their daughter had vanished after calling 911 to report seeing a male toddler in a diaper walking alone on the side of I-459. After missing for more than 48 hours, Carlee returned home on Saturday evening and now her parents, Talitha and Carlos Russell, are speaking out about their daughter’s disappearance, urging the public “not to speculate.”

“There were actually just so many calls and texts from people who maliciously lied to us,” Carlee’s mother Talitha said in an interview with NBC News. “I just didn’t know people could be so evil.” Her parents said their main focus right now is their daughter’s “physical and mental well-being” and that online speculation and comments about what happened to her have been “upsetting to Carlee.”

Carlee returned home on foot late Saturday night, around 10:45 p.m., and was taken to the hospital for a medical evaluation, according to the Hoover Police Department. She was released on Sunday morning. At the time of Carlee’s disappearance, police said that her vehicle was found “unlocked, running, with all of her personal belongings except for her phone.” Her phone was later found on a nearby road.

On Monday, police said they’re not ready to share more information about Carlee’s whereabouts in the 48 hours she was missing. “We have spoken to Carlee once and are following up on that information, however we are not able to publicly share the details from our initial interview,” Hoover Police Captain Keith Czeskleba told Newsweek. “We will follow up with her again to attempt to get a better understanding of the past 48 hours and will provide what information we can when we are able to do so.” Law enforcement did not share further information about the possible missing toddler or comment on assertions that Russell was kidnapped. Police previously said that Carlee’s 911 call “remains the only timely report of a child on the interstate.”

“We rejoice with the Russell family as they continue to rest and recover from this situation and ask for their wishes to be respected regarding their privacy,” police said in a statement on Sunday, adding, “As we continue to investigate we will release information that is determined to be factual and pertinent to the public.”

While Talitha said she felt “so much joy” when she saw her daughter return home on Saturday, she also told NBC News that she and her husband could not immediately embrace her. “We tried to hug her as best we could, but I had to stand back because she was not in a good state, so we had to stand back and let medical professionals work with her,” her mother said.

Carlee’s parents also said they could not speak more at-length about what happened with reporters as it’s an ongoing investigation, but they did read from a written statement about their daughter’s traumatic experience. “Carlee has given detectives her statement so that they can continue to pursue her abductor,” Talitha read aloud, noting that she “absolutely” thinks there is a possibility of an abductor remaining at large.

“She found her way back to us, however we can’t discuss the details of that,” Carlee’s mother said. “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. She made it back.”