Carlee Russell, an Alabama woman who went missing earlier this month, has admitted to police that she was not actually abducted. Her admission comes after a two-week saga that initially garnered widespread media coverage and resources devoted to her supposed kidnapping. However, as more details emerged, including a number of revealing Google searches she made on her cellphone in the days leading up to her disappearance, doubts grew about the validity of her story. The incident has put the spotlight on the alarming number of missing Black women and girls in the US.
1 in 5 people missing in the U.S. are Black women
Black women and girls made up approximately 18% of all missing persons cases in the US in 2022, despite comprising only 7% of the population. Of the more than 546,000 people reported missing last year, nearly 98,000 were Black women and girls. Experts say that most of these cases receive little to no attention at all. This disparity has been attributed to “Missing White Women Syndrome,” where news media focuses on missing white women and girls, while missing persons of color, particularly Black women, are overlooked.
The First Case That Went Viral
The case of Carlee Russell initially gained widespread attention, with many celebrating her safe return after she vanished for 49 hours. However, as more details emerged, including a number of revealing Google searches she made on her cellphone in the days leading up to her disappearance, many began to doubt whether a crime had actually taken place. Critics highlighted the irony in the extensive media coverage and resources devoted to Russell’s case, given that thousands of other missing Black women and girls receive far less attention. Natalie Wilson, co-founder of the Black and Missing Foundation, noted that the case was “really the first case that went viral of a missing Black woman or young girl.”
Russell’s Boyfriend Speaks Out
Russell’s boyfriend, who had been the last person to see her before she disappeared, spoke out after her admission. He said that he was “relieved” that she had been found safe, but was “hurt” by the deception. He also expressed concern about the impact of the false abduction on real cases of missing Black women and girls, saying “There are actual people that go missing and don’t come back, and this just puts them in even more danger.”
The Importance of Keeping the Momentum
Despite the revelation that Russell’s abduction was a hoax, advocates for missing Black women and girls are determined to keep the momentum going. They are urging the public to focus on finding others who are actually missing, rather than on the details of Russell’s case. “I know people are angry, they’re disappointed, they’re frustrated, but they cannot turn a blind eye to the families that are desperately searching for their missing loved ones,” said Wilson. The unraveling of Russell’s story has been called a “setback” since it may make it more difficult to achieve convictions in future cases of abduction.
Momentum is Expected for Actual Missing Cases
Advocates are prioritizing the search for Black women and girls who are actually missing. Amara Cofer, the creator and host of “Black Girl Gone,” a podcast that highlights missing Black women and girls, said, “now that we know it was a lie, hopefully, we can all move on and begin to put the energy people had for Carlee into the Black women and girls that are really missing.”
The false abduction of Carlee Russell has highlighted the urgent need to address the issue of missing Black women and girls in the US. Advocates are hoping that the momentum from this case can be transformed into a renewed effort to find those who are actually missing, and to address the systemic inequalities that have led to their cases being overlooked.