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Carlee Russell's Immensely Damaging Hoax

A look at Carlee Russell's abduction hoax, and the floodgates she opened with her actions

By Clyde E. DawkinsPublished 2 months ago 5 min read
Top Story - July 2023

A week prior, we were all hit with the news that Carlethia "Carlee" Nichole Russell, a 25-year-old nursing student from Alabama, was suddenly missing. The news actually hit all forms of social media, and I couldn't believe it. A story centering on a missing Black woman was actually getting good attention on news outlets. More on that front later, but Carlee would later be found after 50 hours, and regarding her tale, she stated that she heard a baby crying inside a van, and it was followed by a man forcing her into said van and abducting her. Carlee added that a woman was also with said man, and at some point, after being placed in another vehicle, she managed to escape through the woods and find her way home.

It was quite a tale of peril and danger, but on July 24, it was revealed to be a big lie.

Suspicions (and eyebrows) were raised about Carlee's statements for a few days, but on July 24, 2023, Carlee came clean: she made it all up. She never saw a baby. She was never abducted. She cooked the whole thing up. A detailed story of events revealed that Carlee made a lot of online searches prior to her "abduction," including "how to pay for an Amber Alert," a bus ticket from Birmingham to Nashville, and even a search regarding the film, Taken. My goodness.

So yeah, Carlee's "abduction" was a hoax. It's definitely not the first time we've heard of these hoaxes, but regarding Carlee, this one is just so, so damaging in so many ways. Here's why:

Earlier this year, Lifetime released the movie, Black Girl Missing, which starred Garcelle Beauvais as Cheryl, a mother whose teenage daughter, Lauren, goes missing, but unfortunately, the case is being dismissed in favor of a teenage white girl, Jessica. Even worse, Lauren is branded as a runaway, and even made to look like a criminal during this whole ordeal. By the way, the film's near climax saw a report that Jessica had safely returned home, and--brace yourselves...she simply ran away. Wasn't missing. Just ran away.

Now, the film tells us what we already know and what we've been knowing for too long. Cases involving missing Black (or any member of the BIPOC community) women do not get one-tenth the coverage, attention, or diligence that cases regarding missing White women get. Missing girls of color often get regarded as "runaways" who are "simply acting out," with police giving the worried parents the "Just wait around and see what turns up" speech. Meanwhile, missing White women get all sorts of attention: nearly every media outlet (local and national, and international in some cases), several forms of law enforcement involved, even actual press conferences that are as elaborate (or more so) than those in the sports world.

When a case involving a missing Black woman actually gets some semblance of attention, that's big. That being said, it makes what Carlee did absolutely damaging. Missing Black woman cases get dismissed enough as it is. Carlee's actions set things back in so many directions. I wouldn't be surprised if the name "Carlee Russell" gets repeated derisively from this point on when a Black woman goes missing. But you definitely won't hear these names:

Jennifer Wilbanks

Who here still remembers the "runaway bride"? Jennifer Wilbanks told a tale that, right before her wedding, she was abducted a Latino man, and yes, she did the racial scapegoating in her story. Turns out there was no abduction, Jennifer simply had cold feet regarding the wedding. The coverage was there, but after it was deemed a hoax, the "runaway bride" got her nickname, she became a topic of comedy for a brief while, but we all moved on from that.

Heidi Jones

I still remember this story when it broke. Heidi Jones, a former meteorologist for WABC in New York, as well as a fill-in on Good Morning America, claimed that she was raped while she was jogging and attacked once again in her home. Heidi described the "attacker" as a Hispanic "pervert" (hell's bells), but after inconsistencies in her story were noticed, Heidi admitted to making up the story, blaming her "stressful job" for her actions. Sure, Jan. That didn't get much attention, and again, we moved on.

Bethany Storro

A decade ago, Bethany Storro was introduced as a victim of an acid attack by, according to Bethany herself, a Black woman. However, after searching for a couple of weeks, it was determined that the only "attacker" was Bethany herself, who had received thousands of dollars in donation money since the "attack," and was even set to appear on Oprah to discuss her "ordeal." This got quite a bit of attention, but again, we moved on from that as well.

Sherry Papini

We all know about Sherri Papini. Went missing in November 2016 and found on Thanksgiving Day, and for four years, she stated that she was abducted and imprisoned by a pair of Hispanic women. It wasn't until last March that the news broke that Sherri was arrested for actually fabricating her own abduction, as it came out that she ran off with an ex-boyfriend and plotted this scheme with him, which included bruising herself to keep up the ruse. All of this happened in California, so this whole story got a lot of coverage out here. Lifetime made a movie about this story earlier this year: Hoax: The Kidnapping of Sherri Papini, which starred Jaime King in the titular role.

Even with that, however, we moved on.

Now, I know that all of the examples I mentioned weren't kidnapping hoaxes, but you get my point. The bottom line is this: Carlee Russell is a selfish hoaxer, as are all four of the women I mentioned. Here's the thing, though. Nobody even stops to think about any of the four women I mentioned whenever a White woman goes missing; their cases still get taken seriously. I guarantee you that Carlee Russell will most likely serve as a derisive reference any time a Black woman goes missing. That, sadly, is what Carlee has done with her actions, and that's the point I'm getting across. All abduction cases should be taken seriously and shouldn't be met with side eyes, doubt, or raised eyebrows, yet the ones centering on missing Black women receive all of those negative reactions, and that was before Carlee. 40% of the missing persons who haven't been found: Black women. Carlee Russell's actions have set things too far back, and all any of us can hope is that her hoax doesn't cause that percentage to increase.


About the Creator

Clyde E. Dawkins

I am an avid fan of sports and wrestling, and I've been a fan of female villains since the age of eight. Also into film and TV, especially Simpsons and Family Guy.

Feel free to follow my social media:

Twitter - Facebook - Tiktok - Instagram

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Comments (23)

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  • Canuck Scriber2 months ago

    Excellent article and great points you brought up! Every 40 seconds a person goes missing according to FBI stats. If half of those are runaways or child custody breaches that still averages to every 90 seconds which is appalling. Yes, more coverage of black women in the midst of it all. Have you thought of doing some Vocal stories on Missing Persons? Congratulations on the Top Story!!!

  • Nitu Gupta2 months ago

    Your thought is very true. Nice work, congratulation on top story 👏 Please share and support my story🙏

  • Thavien Yliaster2 months ago

    This reminds me of the story of one Black woman when she asked the police about how they placed her child's body in the car. She wanted to know if they laid her kid down as if it were just another dime a dozen, or if they sincerely cared for the loss of life, for the tragedy at hand. This also reminds me of the story about Gabby Petito. Especially about how a lot of people on media things like TikTok were trying to get famous off of the case in order to grow their own channel/brand/page/etc. I remember my mom saying, "The only reason why she's making so much news is because she's a blonde White girl, who looks like a x out of 10." To which I responded about how many men would and probably do actually find her attractive, but less I digress, yes Caucasian women do tend to get more media coverage than women of other races. Needless to say when it comes to being a minority, as the phrase goes, "The greatest of us are judged by the least of us."

  • Lilly Cooper2 months ago

    Very sad and very true. The inequality is just devastating.

  • Harmony Kent2 months ago

    Very well said. I agree wholeheartedly and feel the same about the fake-rape reports too. This idiocy and selfishness damages the true victims beyond belief. Thanks for the movie reference as well, which I’m going to look for. Well done on this deserved top story, Clyde 💕🙂

  • Novel Allen2 months ago

    Where did she get time for this, all that time she should have been studying. What kind of nurse is she planning to be, not helping our cause Carlee. If she ever becomes a nurse she should give back some serious reparations in pro bono and community service. Congrats on TS

  • A. Lenae2 months ago

    This is maddening. When someone does something this awful, I wish we could all take a step back and examine the facts like you did here. This can be an isolated terrible situation and shouldn't be used to dismiss very real cases in the future. Incredibly important topic, and thank you for the additional information and your commitment to authenticity. I hate when outliers become "the rule" to represent people of color. Really, really sad.

  • Babs Iverson2 months ago

    Congratulations on Top Story!!!❤️❤️💕

  • Jazzy Gonçalves 2 months ago

    I heard about this but didn’t realize it was a hoax! Why did she do that? I can’t believe it. I wish we did prescribe more to any missing person not just those the media deems worthy.

  • Harbor Benassa2 months ago

    I can only hope she won't be the last black woman whose disappearance is taken seriously. It seems to be a "one strike and you're out" situation for POC, where one person does something wrong and it takes years for the repercussions to subside while white people have infinite passes.

  • Melissa Ingoldsby2 months ago

    Very wrong to lie about something incredibly serious like that and take away from potentially more important cases. Great work scouting out these cases

  • Dana Stewart2 months ago

    I echo your concerns and agree every missing person case should be taken seriously. I live in Alabama and this story was everywhere - social media, news, digital billboards - you name it. It's a shame but as we all know she's not the first. And ultimately I am relieved she is physically okay.

  • Congratulations on your Top Story💯❤️🎉🎉🎉

  • Katrin Jess2 months ago


  • Hassana Muhammed2 months ago

    Wow excellent work kudos to you all looking forward to reading more

  • Cathy holmes2 months ago

    Congrats on the TS

  • It's awful that anyone feels like they can lie about something so horrific (kidnapping and rape) and think it is okay for whatever reason they come up with. It's not okay! I like how you bought up the point that it is a big deal with a missing black girl case reaches the kind of status as Carlee's did. It shines a light to how damaging this is to the community. I also like how you gave other examples of ones who did this it the past; it was reminder that this is not a one case scenario.

  • Real Poetic2 months ago

    I’ve been following this woman’s story on YouTube and it’s a big mess! Who lies about something so serious? It’s beyond my comprehension. Thanks for bringing the topic to vocal and of course congratulations on top story!

  • Cathy holmes2 months ago

    Great article. I hadn't heard of her before now.

  • Joe Patterson2 months ago

    Outstanding article Clyde and you’re right, this is damaging to the face of our community and we should work to not let this type of behavior serve as the center of who we are.

  • Terry Silver2 months ago

    Carlee Russell disgusts me. She is loathesome, spiteful, selfish, self-centered, person that is too wrapped up in herself to care how she affects others. She's only sorry she was caught. It's evidence by a tiktok of her partying shortly after a very traumatizing kidnapping; as she claimed. A few people I know lost money in donations that they will never get back. 2 friends lost their jobs because of this spineless spiteful b***h. Both regret searching for her.Another friend lost many work hours and had their hours reduced due to the time spent helping to look for her. I will never believe Carlee Russell is sorry about what she did. It's obvious she did it for social media attention and clout. It sickens me to my very core she is trying to use mental health as an excuse to excuse what she did and get lesser punishment. This is very disrespectful to those who do have mental health issues. What Carlee Russell did will affect black folks that go missing for a long time. Many won't be taken seriously. Some might end up dead. What she did is also damaging to those with real mental health issues. Carlee Russell is a terrible person and deserves the worst possible legal sentence allowed by law. I hope this follows her for the rest of her life.

  • Babs Iverson2 months ago

    Agree every kidnapping should be taken seriously no matter what!!! It's shameful that Carlee decided to play a hoax. A false police report is punishable! No excuses!!!

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