He planned to play songs by Michael Jackson because that was her favorite artist. He decided to add “Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars to the mix because she loved to dance. Cardi B, he thought, would capture that right amount of sass people had described Relisha as possessing — “sassy but not too sassy.”
Davis said his hope was that by talking about her, people would keep thinking about her and looking for her.
“I will go to my grave searching and outreaching for her,” he said.
When Relisha first went missing, taken by a janitor at the D.C. homeless shelter where her family lived, people counted the search for her in days and then in months.
Now, five years later, in a testament to how the Washington region is still haunted by the system’s many failures of Relisha, people are still counting. They are still hoping and looking and keeping their promises to her.
They aren’t just saying “never forgotten.” They really haven’t forgotten.
“It’s been 5 years since Relisha Rudd went missing — and throughout those 5 years, we’ve never given up in our attempt to locate her,” the D.C. police department tweeted on Friday. “Have info? Call 202-727-9099/50411.”
Robert G. Lowery Jr., who heads the Missing Children Division for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, said the organization never closes a case until a child is found.
“We’re not going to give up hope until we find her,” he said of Relisha. “And we will not give up the search.”
Lowery said the organization still gets calls from people wanting to know what happened to her.
“I wish I had that answer,” he said.
Kahlil Tatum selfishly took that answer with him to the grave. As police searched for the janitor, he killed his wife and then himself, leaving no word about what he did to the second grader or where he left her.
Police officials have long classified the search for her as a “recovery mission” indicating they believe she is dead. But many people in the community remain hopeful that she is still alive, just waiting to be found.
Last year, authorities released an age-progression photo of her showing what she might look like now. In it, she was no longer that round-faced girl with bows in her hair who slept with a teddy bear she called “baby.” She was a young woman who looked unfamiliar.
“People will ask me every day, ‘Do I think she’s still alive?” Davis said. “I say, ‘Anything is possible.’”
When he started the show, he was 32 and staying in an assisted living facility because of health problems. He produced the show on a laptop with a broken screen in a room he shared with another resident. He has since moved out of the facility and into his mother’s home in Southeast Washington. He also legally changed his last name from Warren to her last name, Davis.
Marie Davis said she is proud that her son has kept the show going despite his own health challenges. She is also glad that he is bringing attention to Relisha and other missing people in the area, including his own cousin, Unique Harris. The 24-year-old mother of two put her children, ages 3 and 5, to bed one night in October 2010 and when they woke up, she was gone.
When people lose a family member in that way, Marie Davis said, “they want to know somebody is still looking, somebody is still paying attention to their loved one.”
Keith Davis is not only paying attention, he has made others do so as well.
Trena Pringle is a 44-year-old mother of two teenage girls who lives in Woodbridge. She started listening to the show five years ago, tuning in during quiet moments during her shift as an overnight manager at McDonald’s. She said other staff members soon started listening to it with her and one of them, a young mother, participated in a community-organized search for Relisha.
“My mom used to joke and call me Scooby-Doo,” Pringle said. “She was alive at that time and I told her, ‘This is one mystery I really need to solve, and if I can’t solve it, I need someone else to.’”
When Davis started the show, it offered a rare, unfiltered look at the case. Callers swapped theories, pointed fingers and grilled Relisha’s relatives when they called in. I wrote about the show at the time and described it in this way: “The Relisha radio show is at once a church, a courtroom and a group-therapy session. It is a search party.”
Pringle said that she has listened faithfully to the show all these years and planned to listen to the latest episode as well.
“I have to,” she said. “Maybe there is something we didn’t see before or maybe there is information we heard before and didn’t know how to piece it together.”
I wrote about Relisha at the time of her disappearance and in the years that have followed, people have asked me about her at unexpected times. The nurse at my son’s school once brought her up. A receptionist at a doctor’s office did as well. Recently, a teenage girl sent me an email.
“I am getting in touch with you because a lot of people have forgot about the Relisha Rudd Story but I haven’t,” she wrote. “I will like to know if you can keep writing and posting updates.”
I wrote her back and made a promise. I assured her I wouldn’t forget Relisha.