After more than a month of extensive searching in the DC area, there are still no signs of Relisha Rudd, an 8-year-old girl who was residing with her family at D.C. General Family Homeless Shelter when she disappeared.While police are still hoping for new clues, Mayor Vincent Gray has announced he wants a full review of how the city has handled this case and wants the shelter where Relisha lived to be closed down.Mayor Gray and Police Chief Cathy Lanier spoke separately Wednesday morning about the case. The chief still has hope Relisha is alive and the mayor has assigned two of his deputy mayors to take a close look at how the case has been handled.
The shelter, where Rudd lived with her mother and brothers, is also where she met janitor Khalil Tatum, her alleged abductor, and where she was last seen more than one month ago.
In early March, Tatum never brought Relisha back after a visit, and her mother did not report her missing. It was a school counselor who realized and reported the girl’s disappearance, and Lanier says that this time lapse was critical: “What really hurt us is not even becoming aware of her being missing until three or four weeks from the last time she was seen…that’s really a killer.”
While Gray is ordering a review of city agencies to see if anything could have been done differently to prevent this, he said the child’s family has to bear some of the blame: “Remember, parents have a responsibility also, and the parents — the mother and the grandmother — certainly played a role in this.”
Chief Lanier was asked if Tatum, who was found dead in Kenilworth Park last week, could be connected to the sexual exploitation of children.
“I wouldn’t comment on anything specific to this case in terms of evidence, but I would say right now, that is not something we believe he was heavily involved in,” said Lanier.
Tatum’s wife was found dead in a Maryland motel room on March 20.
Mayor Gray also expressed the same concerns raised by so many people recently. Why were Relisha and other children living at the old D.C. General Hospital? Gray said wants the shelter closed, but the families have nowhere to go.
“We’re not going to leave families on the street,” he said.
Gray said there is no reason to believe that the city made any mistakes when it comes to the Rudd investigation, but because so much attention has been focused on this case, he is ordering a full review just to make sure.
Cops located a person of interest in a video released by police last week. He cooperated with authorities, but had little information about the missing girl and was released.
A TIMELINE OF THE CASE
An Amber Alert was issued for Relisha on March 20. According to D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier, Relisha was last seen on March 1 in the District with Kahlil Tatum, the man police believe abducted her. Lanier said that is the last time they can confirm that Relisha was seen alive, and at that time, she was with Tatum with permission from her mother.
On March 2, Lanier said Tatum, 51, purchased a carton of 43-gallon self-tying black trash bags, and later was in the area of the aquatic gardens in Kenilworth Park for a period of time. After that, Lanier said Tatum was going to work and was seen in D.C. through March 20, but Relisha was not seen.
Lanier said based on this information, the search for Relisha in the park is a recovery operation, but they’re still following up on other tips. Lanier said they’re not ruling anything out until she is found.
Tatum’s wife was found dead in a Maryland motel room on March 20. Earlier in the day, an FBI spokesperson confirmed that they were assisting other agencies in the search, and they’re following up on all possible leads.
Tatum was the janitor in the homeless shelter where Rudd had been staying with her mother.
Tatum had already been charged with killing his wife, 51-year-old Andrea Tatum, whose body was found in a motel room in Oxon Hill, Md. Officers found her body while they were searching for Relisha. A warrant was issued for his arrest, and he was charged with first-degree murder and unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.
Tatum was added to the FBI’s Most Wanted List in March. The FBI also released video to the public showing Tatum and Relisha walking down the hallway of a northeast D.C. hotel on February 26.
D.C. officials also announced that Tatum had posed as Relisha’s doctor, taking calls from her elementary school teacher and telling them the little girl was sick. Officials familiar with the investigation say Rudd’s mother, grandmother and Tatum were all working together in an effort to fool teachers and administrators at Payne Elementary School into believing the 8-year-old was not coming to school because she was sick.
“He basically assured the school the child had been ill and gave some detailed information around that,” said Bebe Otero, the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services.
Administration officials not authorized to speak on the record said Rudd’s grandmother and mother gave Tatum’s phone number to the school claiming he was the girl’s doctor.
Relisha is described as a black girl, weighing about 70 to 80 pounds, with black hair, brown eyes and a medium complexion.