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Markita Bryant walked down Bladensburg Avenue NE Saturday with a bullhorn yelling, “Relisha Rudd. Eight years old. Gone missing in this area.” A handful of other people followed her with stacks of fliers as they passed by the Holiday Inn Express—-one of the last places the missing girl was seen with her presumed abductor, Kahlil Tatum, who was found dead from an apparent suicide on March 31.
The search for Relisha has quieted in recent days as police hit dead end after dead end in the case of the missing homeless girl, whom no one reported missing for nearly a month. She was reportedly last seen on March 1, but police didn’t become involved in the case until March 19. Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier has held numerous press conferences in which she appeared exasperated by the lack of substantial leads to Relisha’s whereabouts. Officials called the search a “recovery mission” as they sifted through the sprawling Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Garden thinking they would find her body. When they didn’t, Lanier called it “bittersweet,” because they still had no clue to where the girl could be.
The dozens of people who showed up outside the National Arboretum Saturday afternoon wanted Relisha to know they hadn’t given up hope. Since the case became public, the refrains have been “Who failed Relisha?” and “Too little too late”—-references to the systemic problems that allowed teachers and employees at the D.C. General shelter for homeless families to fail to notice or report the girl missing until weeks after her last appearance.
“We don’t come from that perspective, we don’t believe in too little too late,” said the search’s organizer Trayon White, who met Relisha a few times while he served on the D.C. State Board of Education. “We are going to continue the search as if she disappeared yesterday.”
The people who came to hand out fliers to homeowners and passersby participated for different reasons: There were Howard University students, mothers, neighbors, community activists, and people who said they just haven’t been able to stop thinking about Relisha.
“When I first heard about this, I couldn’t gather myself to see how a missing girl could go missing for so long with no one noticing,” said Patricia Wood, who brought her 7-year-old granddaughter Ca’liya to the search. “Each and every time I can get involved and make my kids aware, I’m going to do it.”
This is the third search and canvassing operation for Relisha that White has led. He said as many as 200 people have come to some of them, including members of Relisha’s family. (Only a couple dozen showed up for the beginnings of this one, but more people met up with the group as it moved through more neighborhoods.) This weekend, they canvassed four areas: around the Arboretum, around D.C. General, neighborhoods close to Kenilworth, and in River Terrace. The volunteers went door to door holding signs and handing out colorful fliers asking people to contact the police if they know anything.
At the National Arboretum, Pastor Martha Collins, of For Gods Glory and My Good Ministries near the Capitol Heights Metro station, led a prayer circle with the volunteers. “We don’t know how this happened, God, but you do, God,” she said.
Photo by Perry Stein