Carlee Russell was booked into the Hoover City Jail and freed on bond Friday afternoon in her staged disappearance two weeks ago.
Russell, who just days ago turned 26, is charged with false reporting to law enforcement authorities and falsely reporting an incident, according to her attorney.
Both crimes are misdemeanors. The two charges each carry a $1,000 bond.
Russell was with her parents. They went in through a side entrance of the jail and left about 12:40 p.m.
“As we all know, actions can have consequences and that’s why we are here today,” Hoover police Chief Nick Derzis said at a press conference Friday afternoon.
“Her decisions that night created panic and alarm for the citizens of our city, and even across the nation as concern grew that a kidnapper was on the loose, using a small child as bait,” Derzis said on Friday.
“Numerous law enforcement agencies, both local and federal, began working tirelessly not only to bring Carlee home to her family, but locate a kidnapper that we now know never existed. Many private citizens volunteered their time and energy into looking for a potential kidnapping victim that we now know was never in any danger.
“This story opened wounds for families who’s loved ones really were victims of kidnapping — some of which even helped organized searches in hopes that they could help Carlee’s family not experience the pain and suffering that they felt when their loved ones did not return home,” the chief added.
Derzis said police initially presented the case to District Attorney Lynneice Washington of the Bessemer Cutoff, who agreed to prosecute it.
“After consulting with the Court Clerk for Jefferson County- Bessemer Division, the case was referred back to municipal court for charging because the only applicable charges were both misdemeanors,” Derzis said.
Warrants are issued or refused by the circuit clerk and not the district attorney’s office.
Derzis said that “judging from the amount of phone calls and emails we have received from people all across the country, I know many are shocked and appalled that Ms. Russell is only being charged with two misdemeanors, despite all of the panic and disruption her actions caused.”
Derzis said he shared that frustration and he will ask state lawmakers to address that issue.
“The existing law only allows the charges that were filed, to be filed. I can tell you that I will be contacting our state legislators on behalf of law enforcement in Montgomery and asking them to look at this law as applied to these facts and urge them to add an enhancement to the current legislation when someone falsely reports a kidnapping or other violent crime,” Derzis said.
Derzis said that due to the attention this case has garnered, Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office agreed to handle case at the department’s request.
“We don’t see this as a victimless crime,” Marshall said.
“There are significant hours spent, resources expended, and not only that, but the many men and women civilians who wore those yellow vests on a hot afternoon and in the evening looking for someone they thought was abducted, trying to be of assistance.”
Marshall said his office will dedicate a team to help in the prosecution of the two charges.
“This captured many’s attention as far as not only the allegations themselves, but also the concern about a possible victim and being able to return her home,’’ Marshall said.
How we got here:
The charges come days after Russell, through her attorney Emory Anthony, admitted that she was not kidnapped and did not see a toddler walking alone on I-459.
“There was no kidnapping on July 13, 2023. My client did not see a baby on the side of the road. My client did not leave the Hoover area when she was identified as a missing person. My client did not have any help in this incident, but this was a single act done by herself,’’ the statement Emory Anthony provided read.
“My client was not with anyone or with anyone at any hotel during the time she was missing,’’ Anthony said.
“My client apologizes for her actions to the community, the volunteers who were searching for her, to the Hoover Police Department and other agencies, as well as to her friends and family,’’ the attorney said in the statement.
Under state law, one is guilty of the Class A misdemeanor of false reporting to law enforcement authorities if he or she “knowingly makes a false report or causes the transmission of a false report to law enforcement authorities of a crime.”
Under another section of Alabama law, a person commits the crime of falsely reporting an incident if “he or she initiates or circulates a false report or warning of an alleged occurrence.” Falsely reporting an incident is also a Class A misdemeanor.
Class A misdemeanors are punishable by not more than one year in a county jail or a year of labor in the county, according to state statutes. They also carry a fine up to $6,000.
The charges followed a Tuesday meeting between Anthony and Hoover police.
The night Carlee Russell disappeared
Russell seemingly vanished Thursday, July 13, after calling 911, and a family member, to report seeing a child, about 3 or 4 years old only wearing a diaper, walking alone on the busy interstate.
The family member reported hearing a scream, and then only interstate noise through the open cell phone line.
Russell’s disappearance sparked a massive search and widespread concern.
Two days later, Russell showed up alone at her parents Hoover home. She was taken to UAB Hospital for evaluation.
While at UAB Hospital, Russell told Hoover police she escaped the clutches of a man and woman who abducted her.
Authorities determined Russell left her job at Woodhouse Day Spa – from which she has since been fired – after taking a robe, toilet paper and a small amount of cash.
She ordered food from Taziki’s at The Colonnade. Carlee then traveled to Target on U.S. 280 where she bought some granola bars, Cheez-its, and a drink.
She remained in the parking lot there until 9:21 P.M., then drove to I-459.
Russell called 911 at 9:34 p.m. She then called her brother’s girlfriend, and about 9:36 p.m. went missing.
No one else ever reported seeing a toddler there.
Russell traveled approximately 600 yards while on the phone with 911.
Police found Russell’s wig, cell phone and purse near her vehicle. Her Apple Watch was in her purse.
The food from Taziki’s was in her car. Items from Target, as well as the items taken from the spa, were not at the scene.
What Carlee Russell originally told police
In her interview after her return, Russell told police she was abducted.
“She told detectives that while traveling down the interstate, she saw a baby walking down the side of the road and called 911. When she got out of her vehicle to check on the child, a man came out of the trees,” Derzis previously said.
“That man then picked her up and she screamed. He then made her go over a fence. He then forced her into a car and the next thing she remembers is being in the trailer of an 18-wheeler. She stated that the male was with a female, however she never saw the female, only hearing her voice. She also told detectives she could hear a baby crying,” he said.
“She told detectives the male had orange hair with a big bald spot on the back. She was able to escape the 18-wheeler and fled on foot, only to be captured again and put into a car,” Derzis said.
“She said that they took her into a house and made her get undressed. She believes they took pictures of her, but she does not remember them having any physical or sexual contact with her. She stated that the next day, she woke up and was fed cheese crackers by the female,” according to Derzis.
“She stated the woman also played with her hair, but she could not remember anything else.
“She was put back in a vehicle that she claims was able to escape from while it was west Hoover area. She told detectives that she ran through lots of woods until she came out near her residence,” the chief said.
“Detectives noted that Carlee had a small injury to her lip, and she complained of her head hurting. She also had a tear in her shirt. Detectives also noted that she had $107 in cash in her right sock.”
Russell’s parents, Talitha and Carlos Russell, made an appearance on the ‘Today’ show two days after Russell returned home, maintaining she had been abducted. They have since declined comment.