Police in Washington, D.C., now believe the 8-year-old girl who disappeared nearly a month ago from a local homeless shelter may have been killed by the janitor in whose care the girl’s mother left her.
The announcement on the status of Relisha Rudd put a potentially gruesome face on a strange story that has been brewing in D.C., after the formal missing persons search began on March 19. The girl’s face has been plastered on billboards along a 700-mile stretch of the East Coast, announcing a $25,000 reward for help in finding her.
D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said yesterday at a news conference that police believe the janitor, Kahlil Malik Tatum, may have killed her — though they still have hope she is alive. Lanier said parts of the search had now entered a “recovery operation.”
“We can’t ignore the possibility he may have killed her,” she said.
Relisha’s mother, Shamika Young, never reported the child missing. Young said the last time she saw Relisha was on Feb. 26, when she left the girl in the care of Tatum, a janitor at a homeless shelter where they lived. The shelter, formerly D.C. General Hospital reportedly, is home to about 300 needy families in southeast D.C.
But authorities weren’t made aware that she was missing until officials at Relisha’s school contacted Young after the child had missed more than 30 days of school.
The mother responded that her daughter was out sick and the absences had been excused by a “Dr. Tatum.”
After a school counselor referred the case to the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency, a social worker arranged to meet “Dr. Tatum” at the homeless shelter. She then discovered the so-called doctor was actually a janitor. That was the day, March 19, when local police initiated a missing persons investigation.
The next day, police discovered that Tatum’s wife, Andrea Tatum, had been shot dead at a motel in nearby Maryland—prompting them to put out a warrant for the janitor’s arrest on suspicion of murder.
According to the police chief, Tatum purchased a carton of 42-gallon contractor trash bags on March 2 at a store in Washington and was seen in the area of the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. Footage released by the FBI show Relisha leaving a bedroom and walking down a hallway with 51-year-old Tatum at a Holiday Inn Express in northeast D.C. on Feb. 26, the first day she was left in his care.
She showed up at school a couple of times during the next week, but she also missed several days, claiming to be sick. The last day she was seen at school was on March 7.
The janitor, described by the FBI as armed and dangerous, disappeared on March 19—the day the investigation into Relisha’s disappearance began, and the day before police found his wife had been killed.