When volunteers step into a wooded park in Northeast Washington on Saturday to search for 8-year-old Relisha Rudd’s body, they will carry with them shovels, rakes and gloves. They will also be armed with another tool: an accountant from Northern Virginia who says she can communicate with the dead.
Lisa Grayson, 54, describes herself as an “empath” — a person who can read the emotions of others, alive or dead.
Grayson said she is normally private about her ability, using it to help friends or those who are struggling with a loss. But then she heard about Relisha, who disappeared more than two months ago with a custodian from the D.C. homeless shelter where she lived. The case, Grayson said, tugged at her.
After she posted about Relisha on a psychic forum, she was contacted by Keith Warren, the host of an online radio show and the organizer of “The Relisha Rudd Task Force.” Members of the group have been searching for the second-grader in the 700-acre Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, and Grayson agreed to help.
“This little girl is so helpless,” she said. “I just kind of looked at this child and said maybe I can help with finding her remains. But really, really she needs help to go on to where she’ll be happier, where there are other kids, where she has a purpose, where she’s loved and has respect. Because that’s not happening yet.”
Grayson believes, and has said in an interview on Warren’s show, that while Relisha’s body might be at the park, her spirit is trapped elsewhere. She said she believes that Kahlil Tatum, 51, the custodian from the shelter, drugged the girl repeatedly and that one time, after eating chicken nuggets and watching cartoons, she just didn’t wake up.
Relisha, she said, doesn’t know she is dead. “She just knows she went to sleep,” Grayson said. “She’s waiting for someone to come and get her from this place.”
Grayson said she believes that one of the last images Relisha saw was the word “Red,” which makes her think she may have been taken to the Red Roof Inn in Oxon Hill, where Tatum allegedly killed his wife, Andrea, after Relisha went missing.
Police did not find evidence that Relisha was at the motel. But a law enforcement official provided this detail from the homicide scene that has not been publicly released: The Cartoon Network was on the television.
Grayson said she knows that there are those who will be skeptical about her skills as an empath, but she describes her ability as “a gift that God gave me.” She said that her mother, who is from New Orleans, had it, as did her grandmother. She said she does not accept payment for what she does and described her skill level as a 2 compared with Theresa Caputo of the reality series “Long Island Medium,” whom she puts at a 10.
Warren said he didn’t fully trust Grayson at first. But then, he said, she told him things about his missing cousin, Unique Harris, that only he would know.
Warren held out hope that Relisha was alive even after police launched an extensive search of the park and released the detail that Tatum was seen there the same day he purchased a box of 42-gallon trash bags. He maintained that hope after police found Tatum’s body in a shed on the grounds, dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. Now, Warren said he believes Grayson, even if “it’s been really hard to accept what she’s saying.”
On Saturday, more than 25 people are expected to participate in the search, which will begin at 10 a.m. and be followed that evening by a vigil at the shelter run out of the old D.C. General Hospital in Southeast, where Relisha lived with her mother and three brothers.
“Hopefully, this Saturday will be the day we find her,” said Warren.
It will be the group’s third search. The first time, it found bones that turned out to be those of an animal. The second time, it found a tooth and the purple hood of a Helly Hansen jacket similar to one they were told Relisha used to wear. They handed the items over to the police.
Gwendolyn Crump, a D.C. police spokeswoman, would not comment specifically on Grayson’s involvement in Saturday’s search. “Detectives have pursued, and will continue to pursue, all leads that have been developed during the investigation,” she said. “We thank the community for the assistance they have provided in the search for Relisha and the many tips that have been provided.”
Grayson said she is dreading walking through the park. Because Relisha doesn’t know where she is, Grayson said she will have to tap into Tatum and dissect the truth from his lies. She described him as a “dark heart” and a “master manipulator.”
“He manipulated in life,” she said, “and he’s manipulating in death.”
Lynh Bui contributed to this report.