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Police Searched Tunnels Under DC General for Missing Child Relisha Rudd

Architects and engineers knew about the tunnels beneath the building, but police did not and had not previously searched them

Acting on new information, D.C. police recently resumed the search for missing child Relisha Rudd, focusing on underground tunnels at the now-closed homeless shelter where she lived.

Teams of investigators spent days in December searching service tunnels beneath D.C. General, Metropolitan Police Department chief Peter Newsham told News4.

The man with whom Relisha, an 8-year-old, was last seen in March 2014 was a janitor at the shelter and had access to the tunnels. That man, Kahlil Tatum, took his own life that month. 

Architects and engineers knew about the tunnels beneath the building, but police did not, and had not previously searched them.

News4 asked for access to the tunnels but was told they were in such poor condition that they were not safe. 

No evidence related to Relisha was found in the tunnels, but the search is a reminder of investigators' continued effort to find the child whose story captured so many hearts, the police chief said.

Community activist Henderson Long, who has led vigils for Relisha, thanked police for their efforts.

"I'm proud of the Metropolitan Police Department for keeping the commitment, keeping the drive alive to continue to look for Relisha Rudd. It just give me more hope," he said.

There are no plans to resume searching the tunnels, a police department representative said. 

Demolition of the D.C. General shelter is underway after Mayor Muriel Bowser closed the dilapidated facility in October. Some work was delayed to accommodate the new search for evidence of Relisha.

She was last seen in surveillance footage at a motel on March 1, 2014 with Tatum, the shelter janitor. The little girl's family had allowed her to spend time with him.

She appeared to have been missing for weeks before officials realized she was gone. Relisha had not been seen at Payne Elementary School since the month before her disappearance.

Investigators said that on March 10, 2014, Tatum posed as a doctor, telling city officials who were concerned for Relisha's safety that she was sick with a neurological disorder and was undergoing treatment. When they asked for documents, "Dr. Tatum" said he would leave them at the shelter where Relisha lived with her mother and siblings.

When officials went to the shelter nine days later to pick up the paperwork, they couldn't find "Dr. Tatum" or Relisha. Shortly after, a missing persons report was filed with D.C. police.

Police say Tatum purchased a shovel, lime and contractor-sized trashbags and that he spent a significant amount of time at Kenilworth Park at about the time when Relisha was last seen. Authorities have looked into the possibility that Tatum killed her and buried her body in the park.

After Relisha was reported missing, the body of Tatum's wife was found in a motel, and Tatum, 51, was later found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in Kenilworth Park.

No one has been charged in Relisha's disappearance. Police and volunteers have searched repeatedly for evidence of the child. In January 2018, crews looked for evidence along the Anacostia River. The closed shelter is located near the river, the D.C. jail and RFK Stadium.

In the months following her disappearance, D.C. officials analyzed how they handled her case. Their report determined that the District could not 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 policy changes on matters including how schools deal with unexcused absences, background checks for homeless shelter employees and fraternization between families and shelter staff.

Stay with News4 for more details on this developing story.

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