The last indication that Relisha Rudd might still be alive came a year ago Sunday, when she was spotted on a surveillance camera at a hotel.
But the few dozen people who gathered at a church in Southeast Washington on the anniversary of the young girl’s disappearance did not seem to have given up hope that she will one day be found safe.
Even the program listed Relisha as a “Missing 9 year old” — assuming that she celebrated a birthday somewhere since the day she went missing.
“We are trusting that she’s still here,” the Rev. Bruce Johnson told those gathered. “We are trusting that we will see this baby again.”
Relisha was just 8 years old when she disappeared, last seen in the company of a 51-year-old custodian at the homeless shelter where she lived with her family.
That man, Kahlil Tatum, killed his wife and himself as authorities were probing Relisha’s whereabouts. Authorities have since classified the search for the young girl as a “recovery mission.”
Tatum was known to have Relisha at his house for sleepovers, and he would sometimes take her to the movies or the mall. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and police and health officials are scheduled to give an update on the investigation Monday afternoon.
The service at Mount Paran Baptist Church was a modestly attended but animated affair. Shamika Young, Relisha’s mother, sat facing those sitting in the pews, often swaying back and forth with her head bowed.
At one point, a group of pastors circled her and put their hands on her as Johnson prayed.
“If she had a body, and she had a funeral, she could begin to heal,” Johnson said.
Brenda Brown, who has become close with Young and helped organize the service, said she wanted to gather supporters in person from various social media groups and “do a revival for this girl.”
She said she wanted particularly to persuade people to stop focusing on mistakes Young might have made that contributed to her daughter’s disappearance.
“People are focusing on the wrong things. People are focusing on the innocence or guilt of the mother,” Brown said. “Let’s take that energy and focus on finding that child.”
Young declined to comment after the service.
But Melissa Young, Relisha’s grandmother, said afterward that the service was “wonderful.” She said she initially had not planned to come out for the day but was buoyed by the support of people such as Brown.
“I’m doing okay,” she said. “I’m holding up the best I can.”
Cynthia Butler, 68, and Chanel Wilson, 33, both of Suitland, said they came to the service to pay their respects to Relisha’s family and keep her case in the public eye.
“It’s important that we keep her name out there,” Wilson said.
After the service, a smaller group headed to the homeless shelter where Relisha once lived to distribute care packages that included toothpaste, deodorant and other toiletries — hoping to help others who might be leading lives similar to Relisha’s.
Huddled under a tent in the freezing rain, though, they elected to come back another day when more people at the shelter might be willing to walk outside to get the packages.