Alabama lawmaker pushes for felony classification of fake abductions following Carlee Russell hoax.

Lawmakers are working on strengthening the penalties for individuals who make false claims of abduction, a response to the Carlee Russell hoax disappearance in 2023.

Alabama Senator April Weaver (R – Brierfield) and Representative Mike Shaw (R-Hoover) held a press conference on Thursday to unveil a new bill. The proposed legislation aims to classify faking an abduction as a Class C felony, carrying a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison. The event was attended by Hoover Police Chief Nick Derzis and representatives from the Alabama Attorney General’s Office.

On Thursday, July 13, Russell, a 26-year-old, made a distress call to 911 and a family member. He reported that he had seen a young child, around 3 or 4 years old, wandering on I-459, completely alone and only wearing a diaper. Shortly after this call, Russell mysteriously disappeared.

A family member claimed to have heard a scream, followed by the sound of traffic coming through the open cell phone line.

Russell’s sudden disappearance triggered a widespread search and raised concerns among many.

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Russell arrived at her parents’ home in Hoover two days later, appearing alone. Following her arrival, she was promptly taken to UAB Hospital for evaluation.

During her time at the hospital, Russell informed the Hoover police that she had managed to escape from the clutches of a man and a woman who had kidnapped her. However, she did not provide any further statements to the Hoover investigators following the initial interview.

Admitting through her attorney, she later revealed that she had not been abducted.

For full coverage of the case, you can click here.

“I, like many others in Alabama and across the country, couldn’t help but pause when I heard about Carlethia Russell’s abduction and disappearance. I immediately said a prayer for her safe return,” Weaver expressed. “The proximity of this incident to our community is deeply unsettling and has only added to the already distressing nature of this event.”

She expressed her anger and frustration upon learning that the entire incident was a meticulously planned deception. The fact that it resulted in a wastage of thousands of taxpayer dollars and countless hours of human resources only added to her outrage.

According to the speaker, the individuals who suffered the most as a result of Russell’s deception were the numerous volunteers who tirelessly searched for him in extremely hot weather.

Weaver expressed her outrage at the fact that Russell was only charged with two misdemeanor crimes: false reporting to law enforcement authorities and falsely reporting an incident. A municipal judge found her guilty, which further added to Weaver’s frustration. Weaver has appealed the verdicts and a trial is scheduled for March in state court.

According to Weaver, Russell couldn’t be charged with more severe offenses due to the absence of relevant laws. This is precisely why she is determined to implement measures that would deter similar fraudulent abductions in the future.

Weaver and Shaw, sponsors of the bills in the state senate and the house of representatives respectively, are proposing a new law that would make prison time and restitution mandatory for individuals who commit hoax abductions. This legislation aims to hold accountable those responsible for wasting law enforcement resources during the investigation process.

According to Shaw, he too had initial concerns about how an abduction could occur in Hoover, a city that is widely regarded as one of the safest in the nation.

He expressed his dismay as he witnessed the story gaining attention not just within the nation, but also on a global scale. It painted a picture of our community as a place where individuals could vanish without a trace, with the added disturbing element of using young children as a means to lure victims.

Shaw stated that the previous belief was false. He mentioned that it was actually an elaborate hoax designed to gain attention or for some other motive. He emphasized the need for our laws to be updated to acknowledge the seriousness of this crime and its negative impact on our community.

Shaw expressed hope that implementing stronger laws would serve as a deterrent for future incidents and give potential offenders pause before causing harm to our community.

Shaw referred to it as “common sense legislation.”

During a press conference on July 28, 2023, Chief Derzis announced the filing of misdemeanor charges against Russell. He also stated that he would be reaching out to legislators to discuss potential enhancements to the current laws.

“It’s been six months since then,” Derzis remarked.

According to Derzis, our department was flooded with emails and phone calls last July from people all over the country who were outraged that Carlee was only facing a misdemeanor charge, considering the chaos and disturbance caused by her actions. Derzis shared that she shared the same sentiment.

During the investigation, Hoover officers logged over 424 hours of overtime. At some point, thirty percent of the workforce was dedicated to the case.

The police used drones, tracking dogs, and covered extensive distances in their search for Russell. The 911 Center had to bring in extra staff to handle the overwhelming number of calls they received about Russell’s disappearance.

Several other agencies also came forward to offer their assistance.

During the 49-hour ordeal, Derzis revealed that his agency alone probably expended over $50,000.

Derzis emphasized the repercussions of actions, stating that “this bill amplifies those repercussions.”

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