Grid Search of Park for Missing Girl Relisha Tatum Enters Third Day

Man being sought in Relisha Rudd's disappearance had bought large trash bags, spent time in D.C. park

The grid search for possible remains of a missing 8-year-old girl at a large D.C. park enters its third day Saturday.

The latest confirmed sighting of Relisha Rudd was March 1 at a motel on New York Avenue in northeast D.C., and police believe she was accompanied by 51-year-old Kahlil Tatum. He worked as a janitor at a homeless shelter where Relisha and her family stayed. 

Police say Tatum purchased a shovel, lime and contractor-sized trashbags at a Home Depot, and spent a significant amount of time at nearby Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens on March 2.

Cadets, officers and firefighters conducted a grid search of the 700-acre park from dawn to dusk Thursday and Friday. Dive teams are scheduled to search small bodies of water throughout the park this weekend, and searches conducted on foot will resume Monday as the weather clears up.

D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier earlier this week said officers are preparing for the worst-case scenario.

"We cannot ignore the possibility that [Tatum] may have killed her," Lanier said. "Given the circumstances right now, we are fearful of leaving any stones unturned."

Though Lanier said she remains hopeful Relisha will be found alive, she also said the search had turned into a "recovery" mission. She said the department will reach out to community groups to help with some portions of the search some time next week, if need be.

The news sheds a new and heartbreaking light on the search for Relisha. She was officially reported missing March 19 and an Amber Alert was issued the next day.

During a search of Tatum's southeast D.C. apartment, police found five cell phones, a photo of Relisha, children's clothing and $87 in cash.

Friday, Lanier said Tatum has had contact with other young girls at the shelter. It's not known whether those interactions were sexual in nature. Officers are in contact with their families, she said.

"We don't have enough information right now to know that. We do know that he had contact with those girls," Lanier said.

Police also said Relisha's mother knew she was with Tatum; the mother did not report the girl as missing. Surveillance video had captured Tatum and Relisha in a D.C. hotel on Feb. 26.

"I still believe she’s alive. It’s all about the faith," Relisha's mother Shamika Young said.

Investigators say the search within Kenilworth Park -- a heavily wooded area -- could take weeks.

It comes a day after authorities had extended their investigation into Relisha's disappearance to Atlanta. Tatum may have connections to the area; he has since been added to the FBI's Wanted List.

Relisha appears to have been missing for weeks before officials realized she was gone. The slim girl, with big eyes and braids, had been absent from school, but officials were told that Relisha was sick.

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

When officials came to the shelter March 19 to pick up the paperwork, they couldn't find "Dr. Tatum" or Relisha. Shortly after, a missing persons report with D.C. Police was filed.

"I wasn’t under the impression she was missing. I thought she was at my sister’s house," Relisha's mother said. She added she shouldn't be held responsible because Relisha was in the care of her grandmother and aunt at the time of her disappearance.

Tatum is believed to be armed, and he is also wanted in the death of his wife, Andrea. Her body was found at an Oxon Hill Red Roof Inn last Thursday during the search for Relisha. According to court documents, Tatum had a friend search online for a handgun to buy during the past month.

Patrick Kelly, Andrea's cousin, believes she was killed because she knew Tatum was with the missing girl. 

"[Andrea] was a beautiful person and she didn't deserve what she got," Kelly said. "He's a wolf walking out here amongst us. He’s a demon. She lost her life by standing up for what she believed in."

Relisha's mother told News4 she, and her daughter, had a trusting friendship with Tatum. 

A $70,000 reward is being offered by the FBI and Prince George's County Police for information leading to Relisha and Tatum. Call 911 if you have seen either of them. 

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