The parents of the Alabama woman who vanished after she stopped to help a stranded toddler on a busy highway believed the child was being used as "bait" to lure their daughter out of her car — before she was mysteriously returned home alive.
Carlethia "Carlee" Nichole Russell, 25, went missing Thursday night when she pulled over to help a wandering toddler on I-459, the Hoover Police Department said.
The nursing student called 911 before dialing her sister-in-law.
"My daughter-in-law could hear her ask if the child was OK, and the child didn't respond — at least she didn't hear him or her respond," her mother, Talitha Robinson-Russell, told WVTM-TV on Sunday.
"Then she heard our daughter scream."
The parents believe the toddler Russell spotted on the side of the road may have been used as "bait" to lure her out of her car, they told the local outlet.
Russell was dropped off at her home in Hoover, Ala. two days later on Saturday and "appeared to be in shock," according to police and local reports.
Just before 11 p.m. Saturday, the Hoover 911 call center received word that Russell had returned home, police said.
She was transported to a local hospital for evaluation, according to police.
It's unclear where Russell had been since Thursday.
When officers had arrived to the location off I-459 where Russell had reported the wandering toddler around 9:30 p.m. Thursday, they found her vehicle and some of her belongings, including her phone, but not her or the child, cops said.
Police said they were going to give her time to recover before interviewing her.