Doubt surrounding the alleged kidnapping of Carlethia “Carlee” Nichole Russell, which Alabama police say they cannot verify, threatens to overshadow thousands of unsolved missing black people cases, lawyers say
Russell disappeared shortly after calling 911 on July 13 to report a toddler in a diaper walking along the highway. Police said Russell mysteriously walked home around 10:45 p.m. two days later.
Hoover Police Chief Nick Derzis said police were unable to verify most of the 25-year-old’s initial statements to investigators, including a claim that an orange-haired man abducted her when she exited the vehicle to check on the child.
Derzis said that after finding Russell’s cellphone, police discovered web searches for “Do you have to pay for an Amber Alert?” and for the movie “Taken”.
“There are still many unanswered questions, but only Carlee can provide those answers,” Derzis said at a press conference on Wednesday.
Russell’s mother, Talitha Robinson-Russell, said she believed her daughter was abducted before returning home. “Carlee has given her statement to detectives and I hope they prosecute her abductor,” Robinson-Russell said in a statement to CNN affiliate WBRC.
Black families say they often struggle to get police to take their missing persons cases seriously. Officers are slow to investigate their loved one’s disappearance or immediately label him a “runaway,” they say. On the other hand, cases of missing white women and children are being urgently addressed and brought into the national spotlight, say black families.
So the possibility that Russell may have fabricated her abduction has left many who helped search for her frustrated and worried about future missing persons cases.
Asked if Russell’s case could impact searches for missing young women of color in the future, Derzis said, “We investigate every crime to the fullest extent, just like this one.”
According to 2021 FBI data, black people make up 31% of missing person reports, but only 14% of the US population. Whites, meanwhile, make up 54% of missing person reports and 76% of the US population.
David Robinson, whose son Daniel has been missing since June 2021 in Buckeye, Arizona, said it was “very difficult” to hear that police could not find evidence to support Russell’s story. Robinson said he and other families are enduring a lot of pain watching months and years go by without any sign of their loved ones.
Robinson said he struggled to convince police to thoroughly investigate his son’s case. He eventually assembled his own search party who scoured the desert for evidence and clues. He suspects that there was foul play in Daniel’s disappearance.
He fears Russell’s case will make it harder for black families to get fair attention. “It undermines the issues we already have with law enforcement taking our stories seriously,” Robinson told CNN.
Derrica Wilson, co-founder of Black & Missing Foundation, said she currently has nearly 6,000 missing black people cases in her database, most of them unsolved. Russell’s case — and the issues surrounding it — is an “anomaly,” Wilson said.
“For our community, we can’t lose sight of the bigger picture,” Wilson said. “We are disappointed that there are inconsistencies with his (Russell) story, especially when there is a staggering number of people of color who are still missing and need our help.”
Many disappearances in the black community are due to human trafficking, domestic violence and mental health incidents, Wilson said.
Wilson said it’s often an “uphill battle” to amplify cases of missing black people and she wants the public to keep raising the alarm.
“We want people to keep making these cases viral,” Wilson said. “We cannot allow this matter to diminish our efforts for which we have worked so hard.”
Black & Missing is tracking many cases from 2023 alone that have yet to be resolved. Here are a few:
Samalea Monet Daniels, three, has been missing since July 14 in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Samalea was last seen at her grandmother’s house and is believed to be with her mother, Tianna Daniels, traveling in a gray 2011 Ford Escape with Virginia N4M45T3 plates. According to WTKR-TV, the child is in danger.
Casey Lavonne Young, 44, has been missing since May 15 in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Young was last seen wearing black scrub pants and a gray Spartanburg area t-shirt. According to the Black & Missing Foundation, Young’s white 2007 Infinity G37 has been recovered.
Marlisha Love, 24, disappeared Jan. 6 in St. Louis, Missouri. Love’s mother said her daughter told her she was going to a friend’s house that night. The friend said Love asked to be dropped off at a white castle, then climbed into the passenger seat of an older model white Chevy Suburban and left the scene.
For more news and newsletters on CNN, create an account on CNN.com