Eight-year-old Relisha Rudd was already known to have family issues before she disappeared earlier this month. According to The Washington Post, police are looking for Rudd and 51-year-old Malik Tatum a janitor at the homeless shelter at the former D.C. General Hospital where she lived with her mother and three siblings.
Tatum is believed to have killed his wife and taken off for whereabouts unknown. Complicating the story is that relatives told police the child was safe and told school authorities who questioned Rudd’s absences from school that she was sick and with “Dr. Tatum.” Though alarms did go up when Rudd was missing from school over 30 days, it was not immediately figured out because of what relatives had communicated. Relisha’s mother, Shamika Young, 27, also told police that the child was safe.
The Post reports that in 2007, D.C. children’s services made contact with Rudd’s family due to poor living conditions including physical abuse, no food in the home and filthy conditions. But for whatever reason, Relisha was never removed from the home, nor were her siblings.
“To my knowledge, there wasn’t sufficient evidence to have an allegation of abuse or neglect,” D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray told the Post earlier this week. “I’m not going to get into a lot of details, but I certainly did read a chronology where [the school system] was told the child was sick. . . . It appears to me the agencies involved made responsible actions.”
Rudd, her mother and siblings lived in the shelter for 18 months. Her family befriended Tatum, who was known to be friendly with families and give children gifts although it was against the rules and a fireable offense. Relisha’s mother told police she had accompanied Tatum to a medical seminar in Atlanta with his family but wasn’t sure when her daughter was coming back.
Tatum was friendly with many shelter residents and their children against the rules. He was apparently telling school officials that he was a doctor but when Relisha’s absences mounted, he wasn’t able to show documentation of her illness, a fail-sale in D.C. public schools. Confusion continued to mount when it was unclear exactly when Relisha was last seen in school and the fact that various relatives were saying the child was safe kept the school in the dark that she was actually missing.
Police now believe that Relisha may have been killed, although they are still hoping for the best, according to the Post. Obstruction of justice charges may be filed against Young, who told the Post she is not a bad mother.
“It’s not my fault,” Young said. “I am tired of laying my head down to get some rest and I can’t reach out to grab my daughter.”
She says she last talked to her daughter on March 17th. Tatum continued to come to work until March 19, when he was questioned by a social worker about Relisha’s absences. He then left before ending his shift.
Tatum and Relisha were last seen on February 28 on a surveillance camera video at a Holiday Inn in Northeast Washington. Police know that Tatum killed his wife March 19 at a hotel in Oxon Hill, Maryland. Relisha was not seen with him at the time and that is the last time Tatum has been seen.
There is a $25,00 award for finding Tatum and a $45,000 reward for Relisha’s return. Police are focusing on Richmond, Va. and Atlanta, Georgia in their search for Tatum.