She Disappeared at 8, Changed DC Forever

'Washington Post' revisits the tragic case of Relisha Rudd, a decade after she vanished
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 23, 2024 9:00 AM CDT
She Disappeared at 8, Changed DC Forever
This handout photo provided by the Washington Metropolitan Police Department shows 8-year old Relisha Tenau Rudd.   (AP Photo/Washington Metropolitan Police Department)

Ten years ago this month, a social worker at Relisha Rudd's Washington, DC, elementary school went to the homeless shelter where the 8-year-old lived with her family, concerned because she'd been absent for 10 days. He wanted to talk to the person listed as Relisha's doctor, Kahlil Tatum. Upon arriving at the shelter, however, the social worker discovered Tatum was actually a janitor, and Relisha was nowhere to be found—and believed to be with him. A search was launched on March 19, 2014, 18 days after she'd last been seen. Surveillance video showed her walking with Tatum in the hallway of a hotel in late February. By March 20, the body of Tatum's wife had been found in a hotel room, and Tatum—who was charged with murdering his wife—took his own life on March 31. Relisha has never been found, reports the Washington Post in an extensive look back at the case and how it's changed DC.

The shelter where Relisha lived was filthy and had nowhere for kids to play, though about 600 children lived there. Relisha's cheerleading coach recalls helping her wash and apply lotion every morning before school, and how much she liked hugs. A security guard at the school similarly recalls Relisha loving school and not wanting to leave. At a Playtime Project event for homeless children a week before she vanished, Relisha told volunteers she felt sad. Now, many who knew her wonder if they could have done more to ensure she didn't slip through the cracks, and some have changed the way they do their jobs as a result. In the years since, DC has also changed the way those without homes are housed (in much smaller, more kid-friendly shelters, into which they are placed more quickly), and some who knew Relisha have become advocates and educators. They also still wonder what happened to her. Read the full story here. (More Longform stories.)

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