Nicquel Terry Ellis
July 23, 2023
The doubt surrounding the alleged kidnapping of Carlethia “Carlee” Nichole Russell, which Alabama police said they couldn’t verify, threatens to overshadow thousands of unsolved cases of missing Black people, advocates say.
Russell went missing shortly after calling 911 on July 13 to report a toddler in a diaper walking along the highway. Police said Russell mysteriously returned home on foot 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 a claim that a man with orange hair abducted her when she got out of the vehicle to check on the child.
Derzis said 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.”
“There are many questions left to be answered, but only Carlee can provide those answers,” Derzis said at a news conference on Wednesday.
Russell’s mother, Talitha Robinson-Russell, said she believes her daughter was abducted before returning 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 struggle to get the police to take their missing person cases seriously. Officers are slow to investigate their loved one’s disappearance or immediately label them as a “runaway,” they say. On the other hand, cases of missing White women and children are treated with urgency and thrust into the national spotlight, Black families say.
So the possibility that Russell might have fabricated her kidnapping has left many of the people who helped search for her frustrated and worried about future missing persons cases.
When 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 just like we have this one.”
According to 2021 FBI data, Black people make up 31% of missing person reports but only 14% of the US population. White people, 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 hard” to hear that police couldn’t find evidence to support Russell’s story. Robinson said he and other families endure a lot of pain watching months and years go by with no sign of their loved ones.
Robinson said he struggled to get the police to thoroughly probe his son’s case. He ultimately assembled his own search team that combed the desert for evidence and clues. He suspects there was foul play in Daniel’s disappearance.
He worries that Russell’s case will make it harder for Black families to get fair attention. “It damages the problems we already have with law enforcement with taking our stories serious,” Robinson told CNN.
Derrica Wilson, co-founder of Black & Missing Foundation, said she currently has nearly 6,000 cases of missing Black people in her database, most unsolved. Russell’s case – and the questions 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 her (Russell) story especially when there are a staggering number of people of color who are still missing and they 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 the cases of missing Black people amplified and she wants the public to continue sounding the alarm.
“We want people to continue making these cases viral,” Wilson said. “We can’t allow this case to diminish our efforts that we have worked so hard for.”
Black & Missing is tracking numerous cases from 2023 alone that have yet to be solved. Here are a few:
- Three-year-old Samalea 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 plates N4M45T3. According to WTKR-TV, the 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 T-shirt. According to the Black & Missing Foundation, Young’s white 2007 Infinity G37 has been recovered.
- Marlisha Love, 24, went missing 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 location.
Photo credit: CNN