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New Report: D.C. Government Could Not Have Prevented Relisha Rudd's Disappearance

A review of D.C. government interactions with the family of a missing 8-year-old girl has recommended more than two dozen policy changes -- but concluded that none of those reforms would have prevented her disappearance.

Relisha Rudd was last seen March 1 with Kahlil Tatum, a man who had worked as a janitor at D.C. General, the homeless shelter where Relisha lived with her mother and her three brothers.

Relisha's 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.

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

The District of Columbia government released a report Tuesday about its dealings with Relisha's family. Officials say one reason her disappearance couldn't have been prevented is that her relatives provided misleading information.

The D.C. government's report discusses its dealings with Relisha's family, drawing from interviews with 16 city employees and contractors. It recommended 26 policy changes on matters including how schools deal with unexcused absences, background checks for homeless shelter employees, and fraternization between families and shelter staff.

The report also recommended enhanced background checks for homeless shelter employees who come into contact with children -- but it concluded that even those more stringent checks would not have prevented Tatum, who had convictions for burglary and breaking and entering, from being hired.

Police have said that Relisha's mother, Shamika Young, knew she was with Tatum, but did not report the girl as missing. But Young told News4's Shomari Stone shortly after Relisha was declared missing that she did not leave her daughter with Tatum.

"I wasn't under the impression she was missing. I thought she was at my sister's house," Young said. "I didn't want to lose my other three kids. That's why I didn't call the police."

D.C. Deputy Mayor for Education Abigail Smith, who was part of the team that prepared the report, said factors beyond the government's control -- including "decisions that the family made" -- prevented the city from doing more to intervene.

Repeated absences from school led authorities to start looking for Relisha on March 19, more than two weeks after she was last seen. Her family had reported that she "was sick and that she was under the care of a Dr. Tatum," and it wasn't until a school social worker visited the shelter that authorities discovered Tatum was not a doctor.

School officials said that they delayed reporting the absences earlier in order to give Relisha's mother more time to provide adequate documentation.

"They were provided false information from the family about the child's situation," Smith said. "That is just not something that any policy or procedure could have changed."

D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said in late March that authorities could not ignore the possibility that the little girl is dead.

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

The latest confirmed sighting of Relisha was a day earlier at a motel on New York Avenue in northeast D.C.

Authorities conducted grid searches in the 700-acre park, and dive teams searched small bodies of water, but didn't find anything.

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray ordered a review of the case in April.

He said in a statement Tuesday:

After six months, I continue to be heartbroken over the fact that Relisha Rudd remains missing. Although I understand the desire to identify some action the District government could have taken to prevent this apparent tragedy, I have reviewed the Deputy Mayors' thorough report and I accept its conclusions. Hindsight is always 20/20. However, given the law's extraordinary deference to parents, I do not believe District agencies could have done anything that would have changed the sad outcome.

Metropolitan Police Department spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump said Tuesday that the investigation into Relisha's disappearance remains open and active and that there were no new leads to report to the public.

CORRECTION (Oct. 29, 2019, 2:44 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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