Story By Juliana Kim with NPR
On Thursday night, 25-year-old Carlee Russell from Hoover, Ala., vanished after telling a 911 dispatcher that she found a toddler stranded on the side of an interstate, police said.
Her disappearance and the mysterious circumstances around it horrified her family, stumped the police and captured national attention. Then, around 10:45 p.m. on Saturday, Russell's family heard a knock coming from the front door, Nicholas Derzis, Hoover's police chief, told NPR.
To their surprise, it was Russell — alone.
Russell was evaluated at a hospital and had returned home as of Sunday afternoon. Police said they have received an initial statement from Russell since her return but they have not disclosed information about Russell's condition, how she returned home or what happened in the roughly 48 hours when she went missing.
"We celebrate with the Russell family on her safe return," Lt. Daniel Lowe of the Hoover Police Department said in a press release.
Russell's mother did not immediately respond to NPR's request for comment.
Police say they did not receive any calls of a missing toddler
On Thursday, around 9:35 p.m., Russell was on her way home from picking up dinner when she called 911 claiming a boy toddler in a diaper was lost on the side of I-459, Hoover police said.
Afterward, Russell phoned her brother's girlfriend to share what she saw. During the call, it sounded like Russell approached the child and moments later, screamed, her mother Talitha Russell told AL.com. Then, the family member lost contact with Russell.
When police arrived, officers discovered Russell's car. Some of her belongings, including her wig and cellphone, were on the roadway. But neither Russell nor the child were anywhere to be found. The department has received no other calls of a missing small child as of Sunday.
One witness reported seeing a gray car and "a light complected" man standing outside Russell's vehicle during the time of the incident, Hoover police said. Police Chief Derzis told NPR that they have since disregarded that tip because traffic camera footage did not back up claims about the gray vehicle.
Russell attends Jefferson State Community College, where she is studying to become a nurse. She also worked part time at a spa, according to AL.com.