The dawn to dusk search for missing 8-year-old Relisha Rudd continued Friday in an expansive park in Northeast Washington as the District’s police chief said the suspect in her disappearance had contact with other girls at a homeless shelter where he worked as a janitor.
Chief Cathy L. Lanier would not describe the type of contact but said authorities are concerned, given that 51-year-old Kahlil Malik Tatum has been charged with killing his wife and abducting Relisha, who lived at the shelter at the old D.C. General Hospital.
Several people have told The Washington Post that Tatum frequently offered girls gifts — including $20 bills — and that he spent a lot of time with Relisha. Police said the girl’s mother, 27-year-old Shamika Young, allowed Tatum to take her daughter home on Feb. 26, which was the last time she saw her.
The shelter, which houses hundreds of children and adults, is managed by the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness. The facility’s rules prohibit social interaction between employees and residents. But residents interviewed Thursday said that ban was regularly flouted — in particular by Tatum, who several mothers said had offered money to their daughters in plain view of other shelter staff.
Earlier on Friday, police resumed an intensive search for Relisha in a heavily wooded park in Northeast Washington. More than 100 police officers, firefighters and cadets methodically moved through the 700-acre Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens. The search began Thursday morning but was suspended after nightfall. Law enforcement officials said it will continue through the weekend.
On Thursday, Lanier said that while police remain hopeful Relisha is alive,the search had become a “recovery mission” and “we cannot ignore the possibility that he killed her.” On Friday, she said, “It is heartbreaking for all of us. It is heartbreaking for everyone.”
Police have declined to say what led them to the park, though Lanier said the last time Tatum and Relisha were seen together was March 1, and the following day Tatum bought 42-gallon contractor-size trash bags and was seen in the park. Tatum’s family home is a block from the park, which runs along the Anacostia River near the Maryland border.
Police dogs, search-and-rescue experts from Montgomery County and federal agents are involved in the search, police said. Dive teams are searching the many ponds spread over the woods and green space. Searchers were seen emptying bins and loading trash into trucks to be searched. The chief described the searches being done this weekend as technical, with teams spreading out on grids and walking every inch they can. If nothing is found, Lanier said volunteers may be asked to help next week.
Lanier said that police are still searching elsewhere for Relisha and for Tatum, who is wanted on a murder charge filed in Prince George’s County in the killing of his wife, Andrea Tatum.
Her body was found in a motel room in Oxon Hill on March 19, the day social workers from Relisha’s school pressed Tatum and the girl’s family about her many absences. Relisha’s mother never filed a missing persons report; March 19 is when the police investigation began.
The FBI has put Tatum’s face on billboards and wanted posters up and down the East Coast, concentrating on Richmond and the Atlanta area. But Lanier said on Friday that police have no specific evidence to indicate that Tatum has left the Washington area.
“If Mr. Tatum is out there and someone speaks to him, it would be a lot easier if he turned himself in,” Lanier said. She also urged people with information to come forward, even if it might involved nefarious or illegal activities, saying that police are only interested in locating Relisha and Tatum.
The investigation has been complicated by misinformation provided by family members and in some cases District workers, who had wrongly said Relisha was seen at Payne Elementary School on March 5 and March 7. Relisha’s mother has said she has talked her daughter after March 1 and has provided different accounts of her daughter’s whereabouts. People familiar with the investigation have said a grand jury is investigating possible obstruction of justice charges.
Lanier would not comment directly on Young, but she said, “Clearly, we’re trying to get the best and most accurate information. When information changes, it takes a lot of time and effort to clear that up. It’s clearly not helpful to us.”