Lawmakers Take Second Look at Relisha Rudd’s Disappearance

During a contentious hearing Friday, D.C. officials took a second look at how they handled the case of an 8-year-old girl who disappeared from a city homeless shelter earlier this year. 

The last confirmed sighting of Relisha Rudd was March 1, when she was seen at a motel on New York Avenue with 51-year-old Kahlil Tatum, a janitor at the homeless shelter where her family lived.

A recent report found the District couldn't have prevented the little girl's disappearance, citing, in part, the misleading information provided by Relisha's family. However, the report did suggest more than two dozen recommended policy changes on matters including how schools deal with unexcused absences, background checks for homeless shelter employees, and fraternization between families and shelter staff.

But some lawmakers are skeptical of the report's findings.

D.C. Councilman Jim Graham, who is among the report's critics, organized a public roundtable to look into safety procedures at the D.C. General Family Shelter.

Graham criticized two deputy mayors, saying that they refused to answer many questions during Friday's discussion. The deputy mayors defended the review of the agencies' performance.

“Councilman, I cannot release specifics of this case,” Deputy Mayor of Health and Human Services Beatriz Otero said. “That is privileged information.” Beatriz Otero, Dep Mayor Health and human service

But Graham was able to get one new bit of information about the current criminal investigation

“[The Metropolitan Police Department] continues to investigate Relisha's disappearance, and charges against Relisha's mother and others were referred to [the U.S. Attorney’s Office]," Otero said.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office confirmed an ongoing investigation.

The deputy mayors admitted a D.C. school employee did violate law by not reporting Relisha had missed 10 days of classes.

“And while that 10 days is a line we want to draw clearly, it wouldn't have changed the situation here,” Deputy Mayor of Education Abigail Smith.

Graham argued it’s impossible to know if reporting her missing from school would have prevented her disappearance and pointed out at least police could have started the search sooner.

“Maybe there would have been a fresher trail, because there were seven days lost,” Graham said.

In the end, the deputy mayors argued Relisha and all those living in a D.C. shelter are not the sole responsibility of the D.C. government.

“We are providing shelter,” Otero said. “We have not taken jurisdiction over families.”

There the two sides parted ways, disagreeing on the responsibility of the government when it is providing shelter to families.

Relisha's disappearance remains unsolved.

Her family had allowed her to spend time with Tatum, although her mother said she thought the girl was with her aunt and grandmother. It was Relisha's many absences from school that ultimately caused authorities to go looking for her. She missed more than 30 days of school before a social worker alerted police.

Police say Tatum purchased a shovel, lime and contractor-sized trashbags at a Home Depot, and spent a significant amount of time at Kenilworth Park around the time Relisha was last seen.

He was found dead in the park later that month, as police and volunteers searched for signs of Relisha. Police believe he committed suicide.

Tatum had also been wanted in the death of his wife, Andrea. Her body was found at a Red Roof Inn in Oxon Hill March 20 during the search for Relisha.

CORRECTION (Oct. 29, 2019, 2:38 p.m.): This story previously had transposed two letters in Kahlil Tatum's name. It has been updated with the correct spelling.

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