D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said on Tuesday that authorities searching for 8-year-old Relisha Rudd remain pained by the lack of answers and accusations that government agencies failed the little girl before she disappeared.
“We’re all frustrated,” the chief said on Bruce DePuyt’s “NewsTalk” show. “I realize the public is as well.”
It has now been more than a week since police ended a week-long search and recovery effort for Relisha, who they believe may have been killed, in Northeast Washington’s Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, and very little new information on the missing girl has been made public.
Meanwhile, a review of District agencies continues to determine whether Relisha’s long absences from elementary school and several investigations of her family by child welfare workers should have resulted in earlier intervention to rescue the child from troubling circumstances.
“It’s so easy to blame the government for everything,” Lanier said on the show, run by NewsChannel 8. “The mayor has ordered a review of all the contact the government has had with this family.” But the chief said it could come down to “the roles and responsibilities of parents, family and government, where they all meet and who is responsible for what.”
Volunteers joined by police and parks officials are planning to make another attempt on Saturday to find Relisha in Kenilworth Park and surrounding neighborhoods. They will begin searching and handing out fliers at 4 p.m. at the R Street Entrance of the National Arboretum in Northeast.
Relisha’s mother, Shamika Young, had allowed her daughter to go home with 52-year-old Kahlil Malik Tatum, the janitor at a homeless shelter at the old D.C. General Hospital in Southeast Washington, where Relisha and her family lived. Police said Tatum took Relisha the final time on Feb. 26; the mother never reported her missing.
Police did not get involved until March 19, when a school counselor investigating Relisha’s absences contacted Tatum,who was listed in school records as Relisha’s doctor. Police said Tatum abruptly left the shelter when the counselor tried to meet with him. Police then made it a missing person’s case, even though the mother assured authorities her daughter was with Tatum and was fine.
“The detectives were uncomfortable enough with the circumstances,” Lanier said on Tuesday. “Police instinct is pretty good.”
Tatum’s wife was found the next day, on March 20, dead of a gunshot wound in a motel in Oxon Hill. A region wide manhunt then began. But police later said that they fear Relisha might have been dead for some time by then. Lanier has said that Tatum was last seen with Relisha on March 1 in Northeast Washington.
On March 2, police said Tatum bought large trash bags and was seen lingering in the Kenilworth Park. Police found Tatum dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound in a shed in the park on March 31.
Lanier said no clues have emerged about Relisha.
“We fear the worst but we hope for the best,” Lanier said Tuesday, a sentiment she has repeated often. The chief also has said the delay in discovering Relisha was missing hurt their investigation. If she was killed, police say they have no idea where it might have happened.
“Trying to backtrack what happened from that day on has been exhausting,” Lanier said. A clear timeline of events has not emerged between Feb. 26, when Young last saw her daughter, and May 31, when Tatum was found dead. Officials have said that Young is the focus of a grand jury looking into possible obstruction of justice charges.