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Relisha Rudd was last seen on March 1, 2014. Her whereabouts for the past 363 days have been unknown, but there is a grim possibility. Just 26 days after the last confirmed sighting of the then-8-year-old girl, D.C. police Chief Cathy Lanier raised the theory that she may have been murdered. (Her presumed abductor Kahlil Tatum, a janitor at the homeless shelter where she lived, was found dead of a presumed suicide days later.) But now, nearly a year after her disappearance, some advocates are holding on to hope that Relisha will come home alive.
Officially, there’s no fresh news to report. A spokeswoman with the Metropolitan Police Department says the investigation into Relisha’s disappearance remains open, but the department is unable to discuss details. “MPD will assign as many detectives as necessary to follow up on active leads,” says spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump.
The search for Relisha also continues for advocates of the homeless and of missing people and children. The founders of Black and Missing, a foundation that publicizes cases of missing people of color—cases that are traditionally undercovered by the national media—are based in the D.C. area and have been particularly visible in the continued outreach on Relisha’s case.
“We still believe she’s alive, and we’ll believe that until a body’s found,” say co-founder Natalie Williams. As Relisha’s ninth birthday was marked in October without her, volunteers from Black and Missing, along with detectives from MPD, held an event to hand out missing-person flyers at several locations including near D.C. General, the shelter where Relisha was living with her mother and brothers until her disappearance. (The shelter is still operated by The Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness, which critics say hasn’t done enough to improve since Relisha vanished.)
Jamila Larson of the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project, which runs free programs for children and teens at D.C. General, says she’s “convinced that someone knows something that would be helpful with the investigation.” (Relisha was a participant in Playtime Project’s programming before her disappearance.) “The one-year anniversary is the perfect opportunity to remind people that she’s missing,” she says.
With MPD, volunteers from Black and Missing and the Playtime Project will hand out flyers again on March 2 at several locations police believe are ideal to reach people who may know something—anything—about the case. Volunteers will hand out flyers near the New York Avenue NE hotel where Relisha was last seen, at Metro stations including Union Station and Gallery Place-Chinatown, and outside the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, where Tatum’s body was found and where several searches were conducted for Relisha.
As the days progress, the chances of finding Relisha become statistically slimmer and slimmer. But this does not deter the people who believe she will be found alive.
“The public is very much involved,” says Wilson. “Relisha is on everyone’s mind.”
Photo of Relisha Rudd via MPD