‘Extremely remorseful’: Fake kidnapping victim Carlee Russell avoids jail time, must pay $17K


Carlee Russell plea

Carlee Russell, left, enters the Jefferson County Courthouse on March 21, 2024, where she plead guilty to two misdemeanors after she faked her own kidnapping last summer. (WVTM/YouTube)

Carlee Russell, the Alabama woman who set off a frenzy when she tricked the nation into thinking she was the victim of a violent kidnapping only to later reveal she made the whole thing up, pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors on Thursday.

A judge suspended her yearlong prison sentence and gave her a year of probation and a $17,000 fine. Russell, 26, apologized for her actions during the hearing at the Jefferson County Courthouse. She said she was fighting emotional issues at the time.

“I am extremely remorseful for the panic, fear and various range of negative emotions that were experienced across the nation. I want to specifically acknowledge and take accountability for the pain and embarrassment that I inflicted upon my family, my church family, friends, neighbors, community, and all of those who were directly involved in search efforts for me,” Russell said through tears, according to AL.com.

Russell was previously found guilty in a lower court, but her attorneys appealed the case to circuit court which led to Thursday’s plea. The Alabama Attorney General’s Office, which prosecuted the case, argued for jail time.

“Miss Russell faked a kidnapping, duped the community, and contrived this situation. We, judge, still don’t know, to this day where she was, how she got there, what she was doing, and with whom she was doing it,” prosecutor Clark Morris said, according to AL.com.

But in the end, the judge said while she wasted government resources and caused unnecessary alarm, she was not a threat to the community so jail time was unnecessary.

It all started on July 13 when she called 911 saying she had spotted a child walking alone along I-459 South. Russell then called her family, saying she had stopped her car to check on the child. Then, something happened.

“The family member lost contact with her, but the line remained open,” the Hoover Police Department wrote in a news release.

Police found Russell’s vehicle but no sign of her or a child. The discovery sparked a frantic search that ended the night of July 15 when police said she showed up at her parents’ home.

Russell told investigators a man with orange hair and a big bald spot abducted her. She claimed he forced her into a car, and the next thing she remembered, she was in the trailer of an 18-wheeler, police said.

Russell told police she could hear the man conversing with a female. She heard a baby crying. She claimed she escaped the 18-wheeler but was caught, blindfolded, and put into a car. She claimed she was not tied up and heard the captors say it was because they didn’t want to leave marks on her wrists.

She claimed she was brought to a house and forced to strip naked. She said she thought her captors took pictures of her but was not sexually assaulted. The following morning, she was fed, and the woman “played with her hair” before she was put back in a vehicle, and she managed to escape. She claimed she ran through the woods and came out near her home.

Additional photos of Carlee Russell (Hoover Police Dept.)

Additional photos of Carlee Russell (Hoover Police Dept.)

Police began questioning her story, starting with the child on the highway, when they found no evidence that it happened.

Further suspicions were raised when a search of Russell’s computer found she looked up “Do you have to pay for an Amber Alert,” “How to take money from a register without being caught,” and “Birmingham bus station.” She searched for a one-way ticket from Birmingham to Nashville, Tennessee, with a departure date of July 13, police said.

The day she disappeared, Russell searched for the movie, “Taken,” about a young woman being abducted.

Surveillance video from her place of work the night she disappeared showed her concealing a dark robe, a roll of toilet paper, and other items belonging to the business. Later, she picked up food from a restaurant and snacks from Target before getting on a highway and heading toward her home.

Police found her vehicle with her personal belongings and the restaurant food inside, but the Target snacks and the items she took from work were not found.

As for the 911 call, the data from Russell’s phone showed that she traveled about 600 yards — or six football fields — while on the phone with the dispatcher and supposedly following the toddler.

Then, on July 24, Russell admitted through her attorney in a statement that it was all made up and apologized.

“There was no kidnapping on Thursday, 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 — this was a single act done by herself. My client was not with anyone or any hotel with anyone from the time she was missing. My client apologizes for her actions to this community, the volunteers who were searching for her, to the Hoover Police Department and other agencies as well and to her friends and family. We ask for your prayers for Carlee as she addresses her issues and attempts to move forward, understanding that she made a mistake in this matter.”

Jerry Lambe and Alberto Luperon contributed to this report.

Have a tip we should know? [email protected]


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *