District of Columbia police searching for 8-year-old Relisha Rudd, last seen on March 1, are fearing the worst as the search approaches a month.
Although Police Chief Cathy Lanier says authorities haven’t given up hope of finding the child alive, the search has now turned into a “recovery operation.”
“We can’t ignore the possibility [the suspect] may have killed her,” Lanier said at a news conference.
That suspect, 51-year-old Kahlil Malik Tatum, was a janitor at the city homeless shelter where Relisha lived with her mother, three siblings and stepfather. Mother Shamika Young, 27, passed the child into the care of Tatum temporarily on Feb. 26, according to police. Earlier this week, authorities released video of Tatum and Relisha at the Holiday Inn Express located at 1917 Bladensburg Road in Northeast D.C. that same day (see below).
She was last seen alive on March 1. The next day, Tatum purchased a number of 42-gallon contractor style garbage bags after spending at least two hours in an area park. Police are currently searching that park for clues on Relisha’s whereabouts.
“He was a good man, never got a bad vibe about him or salty taste in my mouth about him,” Antonio Wheeler, Relisha’s stepfather, said of Tatum.
Police, however, may have reason to believe Relisha’s mother is connected to her disappearance.
Tatum posed as a doctor and told school administrators Relisha had been sick to explain repeated absences from class, according to Beatriz Otero, D.C. Deputy Mayor of Health and Human Services.
Shamika Young, Relisha’s mother, provided officials at Payne Elementary School in the District with the name and phone number of a doctor who accounted for the girl’s absences, according to Otero. Calls to the doctor, believed to have been Tatum, prevented officials from becoming immediately suspicious.
School officials visited the shelter where Relisha and her family stayed after the absences continued and they had not received written confirmation of her illness. It was at that time they realized something was wrong. Her disappearance was only brought to the attention of police last week.
Police Chief Lanier did not immediately say if Young would be charged.
“Right now our priority remains focused on Relisha,” said Lanier. “Charges for anyone down the road, we’ll talk about those when the time comes.”
Police are actively searching for Tatum, who they believe to be armed and dangerous. An arrest warrant has been issued for Tatum in connection to the murder of his wife, Andrea Tatum, who was killed in a Prince George’s County hotel room last week. Tatum’s white truck was in the hotel’s parking lot.
He was added to the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list on Wednesday and the search for the missing girl was extended to Atlanta, where he is believed to have ties.
Digital billboards displaying photographs of Relisha and Tatum have been posted along roadways from Pennsylvania to Florida. For DC officials, the search continues.
The FBI and D.C. police cadets returned to D.C. General Hospital Wednesday morning to search the grounds and speak with people who may have interacted with the family prior to the girl’s disappearance. About 70 cadets assisted in searching a wooded area near the converted shelter as well conduct interviews inside the facility, according to WNEW’s Kevin Rincon.
Relisha is 4ft tall and weighs between 70 and 80 pounds. She has black hair and brown eyes. Tatum is described as a 5-foot-7 man weighing about 170lbs. He has a distinctive tattoo on his left upper arm.
The FBI and Prince George’s County Police are offering rewards totaling $70,000 in connection to the murder and the girl’s disappearance. Our thoughts are with Relisha at this time as we pray for her speedy return.