Investigators think a man found dead Monday in a D.C. park is the janitor suspected of abducting 8-year-old Relisha Rudd, Police Chief Cathy Lanier said.
Officials cautioned they had not yet positively identified the body, found during an extensive search for the missing child at the Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, as that of 51-year-old Kahlil Tatum.
But Lanier said investigators believe the dead man is Tatum, and that he killed himself. Two police officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is pending, said distinctive tattoos on the man’s body helped lead to the early identification.
“Everything we have is consistent with what we know about his appearance,” Lanier said.
It is unclear if the discovery of the body brings police any closer to discovering what happened to Relisha, who was last seen March 1 with Tatum. The 51-year-old worked as a janitor for a D.C. homeless shelter where the young girl lived with her family, and Relisha’s mother has said she allowed the girl to go home with Tatum last month.
Lanier said police will continue to search the 700-acre park Tuesday for signs of Relisha.
“We’re still here for the reason we came to be here, to find Relisha,” the chief said during an evening news conference.
The probable discovery of Tatum’s body raised more questions than it answered for Relisha’s aunt, Ashley Young.
“If it is him, where is Relisha?” Young asked. “Where is she at?”
Young said she has been glad to see the volunteers and marches being organized to help find her niece, and said she is holding out hope the girl is alive.
“My faith is still alive, and I know we’re going to find her,” Young said.
The discovery of the body came as police officers, firefighters and cadets continued a days-long search of the park.
Lanier declined to speculate how long the body had been in the park or reveal where it had been found, and said “there’s a lot of evidence that we’ll have to process from what we found today.” She declined to elaborate.
Local and federal authorities have been searching for Tatum along the East Coast. He is charged with killing his wife in Oxon Hill.
Last week, Lanier said that while investigators remain hopeful that Relisha is alive, the search had become a “recovery mission” and “we cannot ignore the possibility that he killed her.”
Police have declined to say what led them to the park, although Lanier said the last time Tatum and Relisha were seen together was March 1, and the following day Tatum bought a box of 42-gallon contractor-size trash bags and was seen in the park. Tatum’s family home is a block from the park, which runs along the Anacostia River near the D.C.-Maryland border.
Meanwhile, public documents and search-warrant applications filed in connection with the case have begun to unveil a timeline of events in the complicated case. Relisha’s mother, 27-year-old Shamika Young, who was staying with her children at a shelter at the old D.C. General Hospital, has said she allowed her daughter on Feb. 26 to go home with Tatum. Tatum was trusted by several family members and had previously taken Relisha on numerous outings. The FBI has released video showing Tatum and Relisha walking down a hall of a Holiday Inn Express in Northeast Washington that day.
Young never reported Relisha missing, but she has given varying explanations, including that she felt her daughter was safe with Tatum and that she feared authorities would take away her other three children if she went to police. School officials were not immediately concerned over Relisha’s many absences because they had been excused by notes from a “Dr. Tatum.”
D.C. police said Relisha was last seen with Tatum on March 1, and earlier reports from the school that said she was at Payne Elementary on March 5 and 7 have proven false. People familiar with the investigation have said a grand jury is investigating possible obstruction of justice charges against Relisha’s mother. On Friday, Lanier would not comment directly on Young, but she said, “Clearly, we’re trying to get the best and most accurate information. When information changes, it takes a lot of time and effort to clear that up. It’s clearly not helpful to us.”
D. C. police did not get involved until March 19, after a social worker from Relisha’s school went to the shelter to meet “Dr. Tatum” and get an explanation for the girl’s mounting excused and unexcused absences. Police said that Tatum “abruptly left before his shift,” and the social worker quickly discovered there was no “Dr. Tatum.” The worker contacted police, who sent out a missing person alert even though they said the mother did not want to sign the report.
Later that night, police said, Tatum had turned off a cellphone with the number given to the school system, and he and others, including his wife of 24 years, Andrea Tatum, checked in to a Red Roof Inn in Oxon Hill. Police said Tatum shot his wife in the head that night or early March 20 and left both of their vehicles in the hotel parking lot. Court documents said a friend drove him to a Metro station on Southern Avenue in Suitland.
Other documents reveal that Tatum and his wife had filed for legal separation in early February, citing mutual differences but offering no other reasons. Court documents also say that police talked to a friend who said that Tatum asked him to search the Internet for a handgun and downloaded images of weapons on an iPad.
Search warrants filed in D.C. Superior Court show that Tatum used his bank check card to pay for a parking meter in Washington on March 18, the day before police took up the case, and used the account, associated with his Gmail address, again on March 21 at 3:12 a.m. No other details were provided in the warrant, filed with Google. In the search warrant application, police said they were looking for the date, time and duration of communications and the Internet protocol addresses that are unique to each device.
Court documents also show that police searched a storage locker on South Capitol Street rented in August of last year by the Tatums. The documents say the last payment was made on March 3, two days after Relisha was last seen, and the rent had been paid through March 31. Police said they were looking for evidence of Relisha, photographs, documents and a weapon. The document says police seized mail and photos.
Police have also said they are investigating other contact that Tatum had with young girls at the shelter. Several people have told The Washington Post that Tatum frequently offered girls gifts — including $20 bills — and that he spent a lot of time with Relisha.
Lanier would not describe the type of contact but said authorities are concerned. The shelter, which houses hundreds of children and adults, is managed by the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness. The facility’s rules prohibit social interaction between employees and residents. But residents interviewed last week said that ban was regularly flouted — in particular by Tatum, who several mothers said had offered money to their daughters in plain view of other shelter staff.
Lynh Bui, Justin Jouvenal, Clarence Williams, Hamil R. Harris and Keith L. Alexander contributed to this report.