Like many other college graduates, Darren Russell wanted to make his mark in the world by making a difference. In November 2004, the day after Thanksgiving, Darren went to Guangzhou, China to teach English, seven days a week, to 1200 elementary and secondary school children. Though he had been warned not to go, Darren had a big heart and a tremendous amount of respect for the Chinese culture. He was excited about the prospect of new challenges and believed he could positively impact the lives of Chinese children.
After Darren began his new job, he discovered he was working in an unlicensed, illegal school. In addition, the owner of the school had seized his passport and held it illegally, never got him a work permit visa, and did not provide him a letter of intention. Though his mother, Maxine, who had been an inner city teacher in the U.S. for twenty years, urged him to leave, he felt the children needed him. "They are innocent victims," Darren told his mother. He quickly bonded with the children, and they pinned him with the Chinese name, Bai-Tu, that means "White Rabbit."
Darren worked constantly, and he became ill with bronchitis but continued to work in spite of his sickness. He finally decided to leave China, but the owner of the school refused to return his passport to him. Darren told her that he would notify the police and, reportedly, the owner became extremely angry. Darren was very ill at the time, and the owner of the school had him removed from his apartment and driven to a hotel of her choosing that was located two hours outside the city.
His passport was returned to him, and he had to pay, out of his own funds, for the hotel stay. During his first night there, he was robbed of his passport and laptop computer. By then, Darren just wanted to return home, and he called his parents to wire him money which became a complicated task.
At approximately 7:02 a.m. Pacific Standard Time, a call was received on Darren's father's cell phone with a voice mail message from Darren stating, "Please help me. I'm scared. I've never been so scared in my entire life." After hearing this disturbing message, Darren's parents immediately called the hotel and were told to call back later. Subsequently, Mr. and Mrs. Russell received a phone call from the U. S. State Department informing them that their son had been hit by a truck and killed on April 14, 2005. Darren had made the call to his father three hours prior to his death.
After paying ten thousand dollars to have Darren's body released from China, his family was able to have a burial in California. According to Mrs. Russell, she and her husband were told they had to write a letter - before their son's body would be released - stating they believed their son was in an accident and that they would not pursue an investigation and/or prosecution. Ms. Russell indicates she received little information about the details of her son's death, and the information she did receive was replete with inconsistencies and left many questions unanswered.
Darren was buried on May 6, 2005, in Mission Hills, California, without an autopsy. The Russell family is Jewish, and in the Jewish faith an autopsy is done only if there is a compelling reason. Not obtaining the valid answers she felt she needed regarding her son's death and the suspicious circumstances surrounding it, Ms. Russell had her son's body exhumed two years later and sought out a notable pathologist and expert witness in California, Dr. David Posey, to conduct an autopsy that was done on March 14, 2007. Dr. Posey determined the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head and brain, and the manner of death - homicide.