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Suspect in Relisha Rudd Disappearance Appears to Have Committed Suicide

Mother of Relisha Rudd begs for her safe returnThe search for 8-year-old Relisha Rudd took a strange and gruesome turn yesterday when investigators searching for the missing girl in a Washington, D.C., park instead found a body that fits the description of the man suspected of kidnapping her.

Kahlil Tatum, a 51-year-old janitor at the homeless shelter where Relisha lived, is the last person she was seen with before she went missing on March 1. Although the body of the man in the park has not been definitively identified, “everything we have is consistent with what (investigators) know about (Tatum’s) appearance,” D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier told reporters Monday.

Lanier said the death was “most likely a suicide”—a declaration that casts a troubling pall over speculation about whether Relisha is still alive.

There was evidence that after Relisha’s disappearance Tatum had spent time in Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, prompting investigators to begin combing the area.

“On March 2, we know that Mr. Tatum purchased, among other items, a carton of black, 42-gallon, self-tie contractor trash bags within the District of Columbia,” Lanier said last week. “Not long after that purchase, Mr. Tatum was in the area of the aquatic gardens for a period of time.”

After Relisha was seen on March 1 with Tatum, the man continued to go to work and was seen around the capital several times between March 2 and March 20.

Lanier said the likely discovery of Tatum’s body will not end the search for the little girl—though she said last week that police believe Tatum may have killed her.

“We’re still here for the reason we came to be here, to find Relisha,” Lanier said.

“Hundreds of police officers and firefighter cadets” had been pulled to help with the search, along with divers, underwater cameras, aerial surveillance, search dogs, and cadaver dogs, the police chief added.

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 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.


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