Disappearance of Relisha Rudd

Is She Still Alive?

Relisha Rudd, age 8, missing since March 1, 2014 from a Washington D.C. homeless shelter.

Relisha Rudd, age 8, has been missing since February 26, 2014, from Washington, D.C. The strange circumstances regarding her disappearance prompted a nationwide search during 2014 only creating more mystery.

Rudd was last seen at D.C. General Family Shelter, a homeless shelter in southeast Washington.

The official search for Rudd began on March 19, 2014. Six days before, a counselor from Payne Elementary School had alerted D.C. Child and Family Services (DCFS) that Rudd had been absent several days from school and they were concerned about educational neglect. Officials told the counselor Rudd was sick and had been excused and released to a “Dr. Tatum.”

The story did not sit well with the counselor, so the individual tried to arrange a meeting with Dr. Tatum at the shelter. The doctor did not show. The counselor then found out Dr. Tatum was not really a doctor; however, Kahlil Malik Tatum, 51, employed as a janitor at D.C. General Family Shelter who had clocked out early the same day.

Authorities were called and the search for Rudd began March 19, 2014, weeks after Rudd had last been seen.

Washington Metro Police searching Kenilworth Park in D.C. on March 31, 2014. Courtesy NY Daily News

Rudd’s stepfather, Antonio Wheeler, told the “Wilkos Show” relatives believed she was going to a pool party with Tatum’s granddaughter.The Family’s Story

Shamika Young, Rudd’s mother, told the host of Wilkos she was under the impression her daughter was at her sister’s house with her mother Melissa Young, which is why it took so long to report her missing. She went on to say she had no phone and no way to communicate with her mother.

According to a New York Daily article, “There’s still no answers in Relisha Rudd’s disappearance – but her relatives have theories about what happened,” Rudd’s family believes there is much more to the story.

On the show, Wilkos asks Wheeler what he believes about Young’s story and he responded, “I believe she has something to do with it and also her mother too.”

Antonio Wheeler

However, the rumors have also engulfed Wheeler. A far cry from the life as a homeless family, Wheeler posted social media pictures displaying wads of cash in his mouth, along with brand new sneakers and a new cell phone. All around the time Rudd went missing.

For nearly two years, the second-grader had been living in the homeless shelter at former D.C. General hospital. A barely livable place infested with bed bugs and no playground for children.

Friends and family of Rudd also claim Wheeler and Young often let her spend time with Tatum.Relatives say Rudd slept with a teddy bear named “Baby” and would often fake asthma attacks to avoid going home. Others close to her at school say she would arrive in dirty clothes, unkempt hair and always hungry. They said she never wanted to go home.

Rudd called Tatum her “godfather” and he spent much time establishing her trust. Belinda Wheeler, paternal grandmother of Rudd, described Tatum as someone who brought a lot of gifts to Rudd. He was considered a friend of the family even though the family did not know Tatum prior to moving into the homeless shelter.

This had not been the first time Rudd was excused from school in the care of Dr. Tatum. On March 13, 2014, a school counselor wrote a referral to DCFS indicating Rudd had more than 30 days of excused absences by her mother Shamika Young.

A Washington Post article, “Timeline: Disappearance of Relisha Rudd,” indicates Young has had a history with numerous reports made to social workers. One report indicates Rudd and her siblings were found in a filthy home, littered with trash, cigarette butts and ashes. Another report to DCFS indicates evidence of “medical neglect” while another says the children were left alone and told to bathe without supervision. Incidents of lack of food and suspicion Rudd may have been physically abused.

A tough life for such a young child.

Known Facts

At approximately 10 pm on March 19th, Tatum checks into room 132 at the Red Roof Inn in Oxon Hill, MD and seen with four unknown individuals. Less than an hour later, three people leave the room.

At approximately 5:40 am on March 20th, one male individual returns to the room where police do not permit him to enter. He tells police he had helped Tatum do searches on the Internet for a handgun and downloaded the images on an Apple iPad.

At approximately 8 am, DC police contact Prince George’s County Police to request assistance and inform them Tatum may be driving a maroon 2007 Chevrolet Trail Blazer with a Washington Red Skins decal on the back window. The vehicle was seen parked outside of room 132 at the hotel.Police gain entry to the hotel room and find the body of Tatum’s wife Andrea Denise Tatum, lying face down on a bed, dead of a gunshot wound to the head.

Police find Andrea Tatum deceased inside Room 132 at the Red Roof Inn. Photo courtesy Washington Post/Lynh Bui.

Next, Police put out a “Be on the Lookout” (BOLO) signal for a second vehicle, a white GMC truck. They later find said truck abandoned in Hyattsville, an urban city close to Washington D.C.

Tatum is charged with the murder of his wife and a warrant is issued for his arrest.

March 24th police release a new photo of Tatum and additional photos of Rudd.

Photo of Kahlil Tatum, AKA “Dr. Tatum”

The following day, March 25th, the FBI releases video of Tatum and Rudd at the Holiday Inn located in northeast Washington, D.C. They offer a $25,000 reward for Rudd’s safe return. Prince George’s County police offer an additional $25,000 leading to the arrest of Tatum.

Tatum caught on surveillance video leading Rudd into a hotel room in Maryland.

D.C. police chief, Cathy Lanier, said there are no confirmed sightings of Tatum and Rudd after March 1, 2014, and the FBI has not released the video of Rudd leaving the hotel where she was last seen with Tatum, citing an ongoing investigation. To generate leads for the case, the FBI released surveillance video showing Tatum leading Rudd into a room at a Holiday Inn Express in northeast D.C. on February 26, 2014.

On March 31st, a tip leads police to Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens in northeast Washington to search for the possible grave-site of Rudd. Instead, police found Tatum inside a shed dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. His eyeglasses and gun were found next to him. They estimate his body had been there for at least 36-hours.

Police spent the next six days searching the 700-acre park for any sign on Rudd; however, none was found.

Authorities say Tatum bought 42-gallon trash bags on March 2nd and was seen at Kenilworth Park the same day.

Representatives from the Black and Missing Foundation based in Maryland, helped police conduct the search of the park. Derrick Butler, a volunteer with the organization said volunteers were told to look for anything that could belong to a child, including clothing, a shoe, toys – anything looking unusual. Nothing was found.

It is unclear whether police have enough information to confirm Rudd is deceased; however, the missing child investigation continues to remain active. Many others theorize Wheeler and Young may have sold Rudd to Tatum. It is unclear who the other individuals were seen at the hotel in Maryland and what Tatum had planned.

Based upon a tip, police launched a new search for Rudd January 2018. They focused on Anacostia Park near a boat ramp just north of Pennsylvania Avenue in southeast Washington. Police said their search included sonar, divers, boats, and cadaver dogs searching for any evidence related to the case. The site is across the river from the shelter and approximately 4 miles south of where Tatum’s body was found at Kenilworth Park.

Railroad bridge that crosses the Anacostia River across from shelter searched by police recovery teams January 2018. Photo courtesy of Washington’s Top News.

Other searches have included a 15-acre construction site on New York Avenue in December 2015 and the U.S. National Arboretum in Northeast Washington in April 2016.

Thomas Lauth of Lauth Investigations International has worked on missing person and unsolved homicide cases for over twenty years. He has found several victims of sex trafficking alive over the years. “We all can agree on one thing, the world is a very dangerous place for children,” Lauth said. “We must do more to combat human trafficking in order to protect our kids.”Other searches have included a 15-acre construction site on New York Avenue in December 2015 and the U.S. National Arboretum in Northeast Washington in April 2016.

Human and Sex Trafficking in the United States

According to the Black and Missing Foundation, the statistics maintained by the FBI National Crime Information Center conclude nearly 250,000 minorities were reported in 2016.

Hubs of human trafficking are located in Georgia, Illinois, Texas, and Maryland. Despite the common belief most human trafficking victims are immigrants, according to the National Center for Victims of Crime, most children kidnapped are U.S. citizens sold into the sex trade.

As defined by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), child sex trafficking is defined as the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a minor with the purpose to commercial a sex act.

Offenders are commonly referred to as traffickers, or pimps, who target vulnerable children and gain control using attention, friendship, love, gifts, and a place to stay. Once a relationship is cultivated, traffickers then engage them in prostitution with the use of emotional, physical and psychological abuse including drugs, to maintain control over them.

Traffickers will alter the appearance of the child, isolate them and move them frequently to condition the children to remain loyal.

“No child is immune to becoming a victim of child sex trafficking,” says Lauth. “In addition, technological advances, the use of the Internet and cellular devices, has provided a convenient worldwide marketing platform for traffickers. They now use websites and social media to advertise and even sell victims, posing a challenge to law enforcement.”

Victims can range from 1-year old to 18-years old, most often started in the trade at approximately age 14.

Human trafficking is an annual $32 billion industry, surpassing the illegal sales of arms and expected to surpass the illegal sale of drugs in the next few years.

“Human trafficking is a hidden crime,” says Lauth. “The investigations are quite complex. It is critical for the public to report suspicious activity. We all need to work together to protect our children.”

Written By Kym Pasqualini