Doubt surrounding the alleged kidnapping of Carlethia “Carlee” Nichole Russell, which Alabama police said they had i couldn’t verifyThreatens to Dwarf Thousands of Unsolved Black Missing Persons Cases, Advocates Say
Russell disappeared shortly after calling 911 on July 13 to report a toddler in diapers walking on the road. 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 statement to investigators, including the claim that a man with orange hair abducted her as she got out of the vehicle to check on the girl.
Derzis said that after finding Russell’s cell phone, police discovered web searches for “Do you have to pay for an Amber Alert?” and for the movie “Taken”.
“Many questions remain to be answered, but only Carlee can provide those answers,” Derzis said at a news conference Wednesday.
Russell’s mother, Talitha Robinson-Russell, said she believes her daughter was abducted before she returned home. “Carlee has given detectives her statement and hopefully they are pursuing her abductor,” Robinson-Russell said in a statement to CNN affiliate WBRC.
Black families say they often fight for police to take missing persons cases seriously. Officers are slow to investigate missing loved ones or immediately label them “fugitives,” they say. On the other hand, the cases of missing white women and children are being dealt with urgently and placed in the national spotlight, black families say.
So the possibility that Russell fabricated her abduction has left many of the people who helped search for her frustrated and worried about future missing persons cases.
Asked if Russell’s case could affect future searches for missing young women of color, Derzis said: “We investigate all crimes to the fullest, just like we did with this one.”
According to 2021 FBI data, blacks account for 31% of missing person reports, but only 14% of the US population. Meanwhile, whites account for 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 couldn’t find evidence to support Russell’s story. Robinson said he and other families are enduring a lot of pain as months and years go by with no sign of his loved ones.
Robinson said she fought for police to fully investigate her son’s case. He eventually assembled his own search team that combed the desert for evidence and clues. He suspects foul play was involved in Daniel’s disappearance.
He worries that Russell’s case will make it harder for black families to receive fair care. “It hurts the problems we already have with law enforcement to take our stories seriously,” Robinson told CNN.
Derrica Wilson, co-founder of black and missing foundation, said it currently has about 6,000 black missing person cases in its database, most of them unsolved. Russell’s case, and the questions surrounding it, is an “anomaly,” Wilson said.
“For our community, we can’t lose sight of the big picture,” Wilson said. “We are disappointed that there are inconsistencies with his (Russell) story, especially when there are a staggering number of people of color who are still missing and need our help.”
Many disappearances in the black community stem from human trafficking, domestic violence and mental health incidents, Wilson said.
Wilson said it’s often an “uphill battle” to get black missing persons cases amplified and he wants the public to keep sounding the alarm.
“We want people to keep making these cases go viral,” Wilson said. “We cannot allow this case to diminish our efforts that we have worked so hard for.”
Black & Missing is tracking numerous cases only from 2023 that have yet to be solved. Here are a few:
Three years Samaléa Monet Daniels 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 license plates N4M45T3. According to WTKR-TVthe child is believed to be 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 Regional jersey. According to the Black & Missing Foundation, Young’s white 2007 Infinity G37 was recovered.
marlisha love, 24, disappeared on January 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 and then got into the passenger seat of an older model white Chevy Suburban and left the venue.
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