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  • Kym L. Pasqualini

The disappearance of Relisha Rudd: Is She Still Alive?

Relisha Rudd, age 8, has been missing since February 26, 2014, from a homeless shelter in Washington, D.C.

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 that only created 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 concerned about educational neglect. Officials told the counselor that 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, but the doctor did not show. The counselor then found out Dr. Tatum was not a doctor at all but Kahlil Malik Tatum, 51, employed as a janitor at D.C. General Family Shelter who had clocked out early that day.

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

The Family's Story

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

Shamika Young, Rudd’s mother told the host of Wilkos that she was under the impression her daughter was at her sister’s house with the mother Melissa Young, and that 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.

Relisha Judd, 8-years old, living at a homeless shelter at time of disappearance.

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 Rudd’s mother’s story and he responded, “I believe she has something to do with it, and also her mother too.”

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

Antonio Wheeler only days after Relisha Rudd vanished with $50 bills in his mouth.

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 with no playground for children.

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.

Friends and family of Rudd also claim Wheeler and Young often let her spend time with Tatum.

Rudd called Tatum her “godfather” and he spent much time establishing her trust. Belinda Wheeler, paternal grandmother of Rudd described Tatum as some who brought a lot of gifts to Rudd and 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 been more than 30 days of excused absences by her mother Shamika Young.

Shamika Young, Rudd’s mother, had numerous complaints made to DCFS about neglect and potential physical abuse.

In a Washington Post article, “Timeline: Disappearance of Relisha Rudd,” indicates Young has had a history with social workers with numerous reports made. 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,” yet another says the children were left alone and told to bathe without supervision. Incidents of lack of food and suspicion Rudd may be physically abused.

A tough life for such a young child.

What is known

At approximately 10 pm 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.

Police then 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 Red Roof Inn.

At approximately 8 am, DC police contacts Prince George’s County Police to request help and inform them Tatum may be driving a maroon 2007 Chevrolet Trail Blazer with a Washington Red Skins decal on the back window that was seen parked outside of room 132 at the hotel.

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

Tatum is charged with murder for the death of his wife and an arrest warrant 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 on the 25th the FBI releases video of Tatum and Rudd at the holiday in northeast Washington, D.C. They also 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.

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.

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.

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 about six days searching the 700-acre park for any sign on Rudd, but 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, to include clothing, a shoe – anything that looks unusual. Nothing was found.

It is unclear whether police have enough information to make a determination Rudd is likely deceased, but the missing child investigation remains active. Many others theorize Wheeler and Young may have sold Rudd to Tatum and it is unclear who the other individuals were that were seen at the hotel in Maryland and what Tatum had planned.

Based upon a tip, police launched a new search for Rudd this 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 that may be 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.

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 and 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 to protect our kids.”

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 in Georgia, Illinois, Texas, and Maryland. Despite the common belief that most human trafficking victims are immigrants, according to the National Center for Victims of Crime, most children who are 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 for the purpose of a commercial sex act.

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

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

“No child is immune to become 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-dollar 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, and it is critical for the public to report suspicious activity. We all need to work together to protect our children.”

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