The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Still looking for Relisha

This age progression photo was created by the Center for Missing & Exploited Children to show what Relisha Rudd, who was 8 when she disappeared in 2014, would look like today. (Obtained by The Washington Post)

It’s not Relisha Rudd’s birthday. And it isn’t the anniversary of the day she was last seen.

That was March 1, 2014, when a grainy security camera image in a motel hallway showed an 8-year-old walking away from a struggling family and a troubled life in a miserable shelter for homeless families. But what was she walking toward?

That’s what July 11 — Relisha Rudd Day — is about.

“We kind of failed Relisha Rudd on so many different levels, so many different people, from the community, from family, from government, law enforcement,” said Henderson Long, chief executive of D.C.’s Missing Voice, the group that created Relisha Rudd Day.

She escaped the shelter just before Relisha disappeared. She’s back again.

On this day, musicians, poets, advocates, officials and friends began a five-hour vigil to cover parts of her disturbing story, one that rattled the city and led to the eventual demolition of D.C. General, the abandoned hospital that served for years as the capital city’s biggest shame, a warehouse filled for years with up to 600 homeless children.

This is not going to be a playground. This is going to be a memorial for one missing girl.

Relisha was 8 when her mom let her go home with a janitor in that shelter — Kahlil Tatum, a man known to give cash and gifts to many of the little girls in that place.

It proved to be a terrible decision. Relisha was reported missing 18 days after she was last seen. Tatum killed his wife, then himself before police could question him about Relisha.

Police did grid searches of the lotus fields and waterways at Kenilworth Gardens, where Tatum killed himself. She hasn’t been declared dead.

“8 years ago #RelishaRudd went missing & we haven’t given up our search for her,” the Metropolitan Police Department tweeted, along with an age-progression photo that the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children generated.

She looks 16 in the photo. We all hope that girl is somewhere.

“We know that age progression photos can work,” said Angeline Hartmann, communications director at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. “We have seen cases where missing children are found because someone recognized an image just like this. Today, on Relisha Rudd Day, we’re asking everyone to take a close look at this photo and share it. It just takes one person to bring home a missing child.”

Somebody knows something. That’s what the folks still looking for Relisha believe.

But Relisha Rudd Day is about much more than the 8-year-old whose photos — both the ones of her smiling and the one of her deadpan stare — haunted D.C.

It’s about acknowledging the disturbing silence that often surrounds the disappearance of Black girls.

We needed an examination of Relisha Rudd’s life, not her disappearance

Hundreds go missing every year, walking, being snatched, coerced, tricked or simply running from their lives. But they don’t make the news the way White girls do.

D.C. police began tweeting bulletins of missing individuals not long after Relisha’s disappearance shook the city. And following these missives, it’s clear police have their hands full.

Thousands go missing every year. Most of them are found.

D.C. has a 99 percent clearance rate on missing cases.

There are 22 open cases of missing people in D.C., including Mya Barnes, who was 17 when she was last seen on March 5, 2018, and Kyon Jones, who disappeared May 5, 2021, at 2 months old.

Relisha is the oldest on their books.

Contact 202-727-9099 or text 50411 if you have any information that will help bring Relisha home.