Relisha Rudd’s disappearance was once measured in days. The days have stretched into weeks, and now nearly two months. But volunteers gathered Saturday unwilling to give up the hope that she might return home.
More than two dozen searchers fanned out across four locations in Northeast and Southeast Washington, clutching fliers with a now ubiquitous black and white image of the missing 8-year-old D.C. girl wearing braids.
Even though authorities fear that the girl is dead and the story has faded from the front pages, the mothers, fathers, pastors and community activists who came together Saturday said they remain determined.
“It really touches my heart that she’s missing,” said De’An Owens, a Southeast Washington mother of an 11-year-old girl. “We’re not going to give up hope. We have the spirit of faith to believe that she is out there alive.”
Searchers went door to door in neighborhoods near the homeless shelter at the old D.C. General Hospital, where Relisha lived with her mother before she disappeared. They also handed out fliers near the National Arboretum, River Terrace, and the Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, where the body of Kahlil Tatum, who authorities believe abducted her, was found March 31. He died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Relisha was last in the custody of her family Feb. 26. Tatum, who worked at the shelter and had brought the girl to his house in the past, took her that day. Relisha’s mother, Shamika Young, never reported her missing, and police did not begin an investigation until weeks later.
On March 19, a school counselor investigating Relisha’s absences contacted Tatum, who was listed in records as her doctor. Tatum quickly left the shelter when the counselor tried to meet with him.
On March 20, authorities issued an Amber Alert for Relisha, saying she might be in the company of Tatum. The same day, police found Tatum’s wife dead of a gunshot wound in an Oxon Hill motel room.
Police have said Relisha may have been long dead by then — Tatum was last seen with the girl March 1. On March 2, police said Tatum bought large trash bags and was seen in Kenilworth Park.
Police and volunteers exhaustively combed the 700-acre park at the end of March but did not discover any sign of Relisha after finding Tatum’s body in a shed.
Last week, D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said few clues have emerged about Relisha’s whereabouts, repeating a line she has often used in the case: “We fear for the worst, but we hope for the best.”
D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray has ordered a review of how city agencies handled Relisha’s case.
On Saturday, the searchers gathered at 4 p.m. at an entrance to the National Arboretum, close to one of the last sightings of Relisha at a Holiday Inn Express off New York Avenue NE.
They linked hands and bowed their heads.
“Father God, we pray that you work a miracle,” said Martha J. Collins, pastor of For Gods Glory and My Good Ministries in Northeast Washington. “Use every vessel on this Earth to bring her home.”
Trayon White, a D.C. parks department supervisor who knew Relisha, organized the search with a number of community groups. It was the third canvass they have put together.
White said their aim was to keep the “pressure” on the news media and city officials to keep Relisha in people’s minds.
Afterward, a small group made their way up and down front walks in the neighborhood near the arboretum. They dropped off fliers and talked with residents about Relisha.
After knocking on dozens of doors, they made their way up Bladensburg Road NE with posters of the girl. One volunteer used a bullhorn to capture drivers’ attention.
“Relisha Rudd! 8 years old!” she shouted. “Last seen in this area!”