School staffer, missing for weeks, found in Miami Gardens canal

WEDNESDAY MORNING UPDATE: Miami Norland Senior High parents received an automated call Wednesday morning announcing Russell’s death.

One mystery surrounding the unexplained disappearance two weeks ago of a Miami Norland Senior High test administrator, which sparked concern among her colleagues and rumors in the surrounding community of Miami Gardens, may have been resolved.

Investigators believe a body found floating in a city canal is likely Kameela Russell, 41, two sources with knowledge of the investigation told the Miami Herald. Miami Gardens Police, who are leading the investigation, have remained tight-lipped, other than issuing a missing person alert last week about Russell. The Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed Tuesday that a female’s body had been found in a case ruled a homicide but had not yet formally identified the victim.

And Russell’s 63-year-old mother, Linda Russell, still holds out hope her daughter is alive. Reached late Tuesday, she said the medical examiner’s office still needs to run tests to confirm that the body is her daughter’s.

“I will remain hopeful until someone tells me differently,” said Linda Russell, now the caretaker of her daughter’s two children. “We do so much together. That’s all I can do, remain hopeful.”

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While no suspects had been named, the two sources said detectives late last week searched the home of a former colleague who lives in Miami Gardens. A search warrant was served last Thursday night, while the man was out of town.

Miami Gardens Police have not returned multiple requests for comment regarding the investigation.

Russell was last seen by family leaving the 800 block of Northwest 203rd Street. The body was spotted on Saturday afternoon by an anonymous tipster a short distance from there in a canal along the 1500 block of Northwest 203rd Street. That is also across the street from the listed residence of a former colleague.

Linda Russell doesn’t believe that former colleague hurt her daughter. She says she’s known him since he was 10 because he and Russell grew up together in the same Miami Gardens neighborhood. She doesn’t suspect a romantic connection, either.

“That would surprise me because I’ve never seen anything that would warrant all of that,” she said.

Linda Russell said her daughter loved to travel, but never took off without a trace. Kameela Russell had booked plane tickets for a getaway weekend vacation for her older daughter, niece and stepdaugher that was scheduled for the day after she disappeared, her mother said.

“For her to disappear when she’s already made all these plans to have a relaxing weekend, it just doesn’t make sense,” Linda Russell said.

Linda Russell’s daughter loved life, she said. When the pair moved from their native Bahamas to Boston so Linda Russell could finish her bachelor of science in nursing, Kameela Russell took up music, drama and dance lessons. They moved back to the Bahamas before settling in Miami Gardens in 1987.

Russell attended Norland Middle and was accepted into the music magnet program at Northwestern High, where she played violin. She performed at Carnegie Hall with the South Florida Youth Symphony as a freshman. She transferred as an upperclassman to School for Advanced Studies at Miami Dade College’s North Campus and graduated in 1995.

Russell went on to Florida State University where she graduated in two years. She worked at a furniture store until she became a citizen, her barrier to becoming a probation officer.

But the tumultuous life of a probation officer became too much to bear for Russell. She began her career in the Miami-Dade County School District teaching at Walter C. Young Middle School in 2014, her mother said. After earning her master’s degree, she transferred to Norland Senior to serve as the testing coordinator.

As an adult, she performed at friends’ weddings and would take road trips with her mother, belting out broadway hits from “Phantom of the Opera.” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Rent” and “Hair.” Russell made friends everywhere she went.

“That’s how we lived,” recalled Linda Russell. “That’s why I’m devastated. I don’t know what’s happening. I can’t wrap my head around it.”

As police stop by Russell’s aunt’s house, the last location where Russell was seen, Linda Russell tries to maintain a sense of normalcy for her granddaughters. Russell’s older daughter, a student at Norland, hasn’t been back to school since her mother’s disappearance. She’s now signed up for virtual school, her grandmother said.

Russell’s younger daughter, a first-grader, enjoys dance and gymnastics. She wonders aloud when her mother will come back home.