An Alabama woman who faked her own kidnapping earlier this summer was sentenced to one year in jail after being found guilty of several misdemeanor charges.
Carlee Russell, a 26-year-old from Alabama, had initially gained sympathy as a supposed victim, but she eventually turned out to be hoaxster after a confession through her lawyer.
The motive behind such hoaxes, according to former homicide expert Ted Williams, is usually to gain attention.
Williams noted that fake crimes committed by individuals are becoming increasingly common due to the rise of social media and other forms of mass communication that provide platforms for these fake victims.
“Law enforcement officers will tell you that as demoralizing as investigations of victims faking crimes are, they still conduct each investigation to its conclusion,” Williams said.
He also compared Russell’s case to that of actor Jussie Smollett in 2019, noting the damaging impact on both law enforcement and genuine crime victims.
Russell was found guilty in Hoover Municipal Court on charges of false reporting of an incident and false reporting to law enforcement, both misdemeanors.
The state recommended the maximum sentence of one year in jail, along with a fine of $832 and restitution of $17,874. Russell’s attorney, Emory Anthony, indicated that they would appeal the jail sentence but accepted the restitution payment.
The ordeal began on July 13 after Russell called 9-1-1 to report a toddler walking along Interstate 459 near Birmingham.
After making the call, she informed a relative and then went to check on the alleged child. During this time, she lost contact while the line remained open, setting off a media frenzy and a frantic search for her.
However, Russell returned home on July 15, near where she was originally seen walking, and claimed to the police that she had been abducted and managed to escape. Despite extensive efforts by law enforcement, her claims could not be verified, and she ultimately admitted to fabricating the story through a statement provided by her attorney.
This confession came after more than $60,000 had been donated to Crime Stoppers to support the search for her.
In the statement, Russell took sole responsibility for her actions.
“My client did not have any help in this incident. This was a single act done by herself. 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 as to her friends and family,” Russell’s attorney said.
Law enforcement officials and Hoover Police Chief Nick Derzis expressed their frustration with Russell’s actions, which had caused unnecessary panic.
“Her decisions that night created panic and alarm for 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,” Chief Derzis stated.
The chief also said that Russell’s hoax led to wasted valuable time and resources from law enforcement officers assigned to the case.
“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 know now never existed. Many private citizens volunteered their time and energy in looking for a potential kidnapping victim that we know now was never in any danger,” Derzis added.