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Saturday, March 7, 2015

Where Is Relisha Rudd?

     In 2014, eight-year-old Relisha Tanau Rudd resided in the D.C. General homeless shelter in Washington with her 27-year old mother, Shamika Young, her stepfather, and her three brothers. The family had lived in the shelter a year when Relisha's mother, on March 1, 2014, arranged to have 51-year-old Kahlil Malik Tatum and his wife Andrea take the girl in and care for her. Kahlil Tatum worked at the homeless shelter as a janitor where he had a reputation of paying a lot of attention to the young girls who lived there.

     On March 19, 2014, after Relisha missed several days of school, the authorities launched a missing persons investigation. Mr. Tatum had also vanished. The janitor and the girl were caught on a D. C. area Holiday Inn Express surveillance camera walking down a hallway on February 26, 2014, a few days before the girl's mother gave her  up.

     Detectives learned that Tatum, on March 2, 2014, had purchased a carton of black, 42 gallon, self-tie contractor trash bags.

     Police officers, on March 20, 2014, found Andrea Denise Tatum's body in a motel room at an Oxon Hill, Maryland Red Roof Inn. She had been killed by a gunshot to the head. Her husband and Relisha Rudd were nowhere to be found. Homicide detectives uncovered evidence linking the dead woman's husband, Kahlil Tatum, to the homicide.

     A Prince George's County prosecutor charged Kahlil Tatum with first-degree murder. On March 26, 2014, the FBI added the fugitive homicide suspect to its "Most Wanted List" and offered a $70,000 reward for information regarding his whereabouts. The Prince George's County Police Department posted a $25,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.

     On March 27, 2014, shortly after a witness reported having seen a man meeting Tatum's description with a girl in Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens in northeast D.C., a party of more than 100 officers searched the 700-acre park. Four days later, a searcher came across Mr. Tatum's body. He had committed suicide by shooting himself in the head with the gun used in the murder his wife. Searchers found no signs of Relisha Rudd. On April 3, 2014, the park search was called off.

     The D.C. City Council Committee of Human Services, in the course of reviewing the hiring policy at D.C. General, found that Kahlil Tatum possessed an extensive criminal record. He had been convicted in 1983, 1986, 1987, 1991, and 1993 of various crimes including breaking and entering and grand larceny. He was last convicted of a crime in 2004. In those days he went under his birth name, Karl Lee Tatum.

     According to the administrator in charge of hiring at the D.C. homeless shelter, Tatum, because his last conviction was ten years old, was eligible for employment at the facility. Had any of his offenses involved children, he would have been automatically excluded regardless of the date of the conviction.

     Social service authorities, following Relisha Rudd's disappearance, took away Shamika Young's three boys and placed them into foster care. The mother, who herself had grown up in the Virginia foster care system, had been shuttled between foster homes, group homes and mental health facilities. Diagnosed in middle school as "mildly retarded," Shamika reported hearing voices telling her to kill her foster family and herself. She also suffered from depression and a variety of other emotional problems.

     After Shamika Young signed herself out of foster care at age 18, she gave birth to four children from two men. She had no training on how to be a good mother and no way to make a living. Prosecutors over the past few years, on three occasions, have charged Young with child abuse and neglect. The cases were all dismissed.

     Since Relisha's disappearance, Shamika Young has been fighting to get her three sons out of foster care. This has created a heated debate among child protection advocates and Young's extended family, some of whom blame her for Relisha's disappearance.

     Relisha Rudd's whereabouts remain unknown. Detectives presume she was murdered by Tatum who disposed of her body.

     

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