It Doesn't Matter What Happened To Carlee Russell While She Was Missing — What Matters Is That She's Home Safe & Alive

In a world where Black women and girls go missing at high rates, we can't afford to question Carlee Russell's safe return.

carlee russell Hoover Police Department

A missing Alabama woman who sparked an intense police search and national media coverage has since been found after vanishing on the side of the highway during the night of July 13, 2023.

Carlee Russell, 25, from Hoover, Alabama, was reported missing after she called the police and her family to report a claim that she had seen a toddler walking along the interstate by himself. Shortly after the calls were made and Russell had left her vehicle to tend to the toddler, her whereabouts were uncertain.


During the call to her family, Russell's mother, Talitha, told authorities that she heard her daughter scream moments after approaching the lost toddler before losing contact with Russell altogether.

Thankfully, Russell was found safe after arriving on the doorstep of her family's home on the night of July 15, 2023, two days after her initial disappearance. Russell was evaluated at a hospital but police have not disclosed any information regarding her condition or the 48 hours when she went missing.


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However, since Russell's return, many people have begun questioning the nature of her disappearance.

The details of what happened to Carlee Russell while she was missing don't matter more than the relief of her being safe and alive.

During the 48 hours of Russell's disappearance, conversations across many social media channels erupted over the importance of making sure her story was covered and that there were as many eyes as possible on her case.

Time and time again, we see Black women never given the coverage they deserve if they've gone missing or have been abducted, at least not in the same way as when similar crimes happen to white women.


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While social media helped thrust Russell's disappearance into the media, once the 25-year-old nursing student was found, murmurs of disbelief began to appear. People began to speculate that Russell's story wasn't adding up, that she'd simply run away or was involved in a mental health crisis.

Critics started questioning if Russell had really seen a toddler on the side of the highway, arguing that there had been no other callers that night who reported a missing child. 

The wave of doubt surrounding Russell's frightening experience highlights the underlying issue: When Black women go missing, there should be no room to question if their stories are valid or not. When white women are found safe, we hardly raise an eyebrow at whether they were really in danger or not. Instead, we celebrate their return.


It's time we offer that same acknowledgment to Russell. It doesn't matter what happened while she was missing, it only matters that she is home safe and alive with her family.

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Russell's boyfriend released a statement hinting that she had fought to get back to safety.

It's even more disheartening to see people doubt Russell's story and disappearance when realizing how terrifying it must have been for her family during those 48 hours that she was gone, and how scared Russell must have been as well.

Russell's boyfriend, Thomar Latrell Simmons, shared in an Instagram post that his girlfriend had been abducted and was "fighting for her life" before she returned home that Saturday night. 


“She was literally fighting for her life for 48 hours, so until she’s physically & mentally stable again she is not able to give any updates or whereabouts on her kidnapper at this very moment,” Thomar Simmons said in his post on July 16, 2023.

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In a world where missing Black women and girls are hardly ever found, it should be enough to know the relief that Russell's family and friends feel at her homecoming. In 2020, of the 268,884 girls and women who were reported missing, 90,333, or nearly 34% of them, were Black, according to the National Crime Information Center.


Black people go missing at a rate three times higher than expected based on population numbers, and many of the reasons fall on the oppressive systems that are put into place. Ranging from poverty, homelessness, and incarceration, to inequity in health and education services.

The disproportionate media attention led to the phrase "missing white women syndrome" being coined. MSNBC host Joy Reid spoke about the lack of coverage Black women and girls often get following the case of Gabby Petito in September 2021.

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"The way this story captivated the nation,” Reid told viewers, “has many wondering why not the same media attention when people of color go missing? Well, the answer actually has a name: Missing White Woman Syndrome."

"The term coined by the late and great Gwen Ifill to describe the media and public fascination with missing white women like Laci Peterson or Natalee Holloway while ignoring cases involving people of color.”

When it comes to the number of Black women and girls who go missing and are sometimes never found, we can't afford to question their safe return. Russell went through an unimaginable experience that will forever change her — she doesn't need our nitpicking and doubts, she needs our love and support.


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Nia Tipton is a Chicago-based entertainment, news, and lifestyle writer whose work delves into modern-day issues and experiences.