D.C. police positively identify body found in park as suspected child abductor Kahlil Tatum

Discovering the body of the man suspected of abducting, and possibly killing, 8-year-old Relisha Rudd has brought investigators no closer to finding the missing homeless girl, D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said Tuesday afternoon.

Lanier said she believes that the days-long search of the 700-acre Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens in Northeast Washington will end in the next day or so. If the search comes up empty, she said, police will not stop looking for Relisha.

“The investigation will not end when the search [in the park] ends,” Lanier said. “This is one component of the investigation.”

Police went to the park six days ago after receiving tips that led them to think that if Relisha is dead, they might find her “grave site,” the chief said. Instead, on Monday, they found the body of Kahlil M. Tatum, the 51-year-old janitor who worked at the shelter where the girl lived with her family. Tatum is believed to have taken Relisha weeks ago.

Tatum’s body, found in a shed with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, had been there from 36 hours to several days, police officials said. His eyeglasses and a gun were found next to him, but there were no clues pointing to Relisha’s whereabouts.


(The Washington Post)

“We found nothing that has helped us with our search for Relisha,” Lanier said.

Relisha was last seen March 1, a few days after her mother, Shamika Young, allowed Tatum to take the girl, police said. Young and other family members have said that Tatum was a trusted figure whom Relisha called “godfather.” Tatum, who worked at the homeless shelter at the old D.C. General Hospital campus in Southeast Washington, was known for being flashy. He sometimes dressed in a suit and tie, kept an immaculate SUV and offered gifts to girls at the shelter, residents said.

Officials have said Tatum bought 42-gallon trash bags March 2 and was seen at Kenilworth Park the same day. The search of the park began last week and continued Tuesday as a group in yellow vests crisscrossed the terrain near the shed. Teams also searched vacant homes in the area, thinking they might find the girl’s body, police said.

Derrick Butler, 51, was one of 21 volunteers — including staff members from Relisha’s school and the homeless shelter — who searched with police Monday. His group focused on thickets and marshes in the park’s south end.

“We still hope to find Relisha alive, but at this point, that doesn’t look likely,” said Butler, who wore blue jeans, waterproof hiking boots and a heavy sweater to protect against the underbrush. “But closure is important, whether she’s brought back dead or alive.”

Butler is on the board of directors of the Maryland-based Black & Missing Foundation. His sister, Pamela Butler, disappeared from Northwest Washington in 2009 and has not been found. Butler said the volunteers were told to look for “anything that could be from a child — articles of clothing, a shoe — anything that looks unusual.” He said his group found nothing.

Police said surveillance video showed Tatum at an Oxon Hill, Md., motel March 19, and his wife, Andrea, was found fatally shot in a room there the next day. Tatum was charged with murder in her death.

Authorities began a search that extended along the East Coast.

Search warrants filed in D.C. Superior Court indicate that Tatum used a bank card to pay for a parking meter in Washington on March 18, the day before police took up the case. He used the bank card again to make a payment by e-mail at 3:12 a.m. March 21. No other details were provided in the warrant, which was served on Google.

Court documents also indicate that police searched a storage locker on South Capitol Street rented in August 2013 by the Tatums. The documents say the last rent payment on the locker was made March 3, two days after Relisha was last seen. Police said they were looking for evidence of Relisha and for photographs, documents and a weapon. The documents say police seized mail and photos.

Lynh Bui is a Prince George's County public safety reporter and former Montgomery County education reporter.
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