The Anchorage Daily News says Russell, who was a gregarious, well-liked student in high school, went on to play one season of football at Valley City State.
While he was in the air, Russell described himself to air traffic controllers as "just a broken guy" with "a few screws loose".
The plane then crashed about an hour into the flight in a wooded area on Ketron Island in the southern end of Puget Sound.
Two fighter jets were trying to redirect the stolen Horizon Air turboprop over the Pacific Ocean on Friday night when it crashed on an island off Steilacoom in Pierce County, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said in a news release Saturday morning. Terrorism was quickly ruled out as a motive, but the incident still led to a complete shutdown of air traffic in and out of Sea-Tac airport.
Horizon Air is part of Alaska Air Group and flies shorter routes throughout the US West. On Friday around 7:32 p.m., he got in the cockpit of an empty 76-seat Horizon Air turboprop plane and took off without authorization.
Sheriff Paul Pastor said during a news conference in Steilacoom.that the pilot was "probably deceased".
It is unclear how he attained the skills to do loops in the aircraft before crashing about an hour after taking off, authorities said.
Ms Morse's mother, who lives closer to the area where the plane went down, said her whole house shook.
In a video posted to Alaska Airlines' verified YouTube page late Friday night, Horizon Air's Chief Operating Officer, Constance von Muehlen, said the plane was taken by a Horizon Air employee, and no other passenger or crew were onboard.
"The setup in aviation in America is we secure the airfield and then we have the mindset that we have employees that are credentialed and authorized to be there", Tilden said, adding that the airline was working with authorities to investigate. The FBI is now investigating, while Alaska Air is cooperating with authorities and their own safety team to make sense of exactly what went down.
"Most importantly, I get to visit those I love most", said Russell.
Troyer said the man who stole the plane is a mechanic at the airport.
The aircraft "crashed in south Puget Sound", Sea-Tac Airport said, adding that normal operations at the transport hub had resumed after a pause. The plane involved was a Horizon Air Q400 with no passengers on board, tweeted Alaskan Airlines. Near the end of the video, you can also see the aftermath of the crash.
Southers says that if the man knew how to do loops he likely had the skills to target people on the ground.