Brianne Carter, Jennifer Donelan, Roz Plater, Hatzel Vela
March 21, 2014
WASHINGTON (WJLA) – Dozens of people gathered in Southeast Washington Saturday night for an emotional vigil to pray for the safe return of Relisha Rudd, the missing 8-year-old Washington girl who is believed to be with a man wanted on murder charges after his wife was found dead Thursday.
The body of 51-year-old Andrea Denise Tatum was discovered at an Oxon Hill Red Roof Inn as Prince George’s County Police searched for Relisha Rudd.
Prince George’s County Police announced Friday evening they have an arrest warrant out for 51-year-old Kahlil Malik Tatum in his wife’s murder.
The search for Relisha began Thursday with an Amber Alert, saying she is believed to be with Kahlil Tatum, an employee at a homeless shelter where Relisha’s family had stayed for 18 months. The search led officers to the Red Roof Inn, where Andrea Tatum was found shot to death. Officers located the white 1976 GMC truck associated with the Amber Alert, but Relisha was not found.
Relisha has been missing since Feb. 26, but her absence wasn’t reported to police until Thursday when a counselor at Payne Elementary School noticed she hadn’t been to class in weeks. Antonio Wheeler, the mother’s fiance, said Relisha’s mother had given Tatum permission to spend time with the girl while the mother was in the hospital, but Tatum never returned the girl.
The child’s grandmother, Melissa Young, says Relisha often stayed overnight with Tatum and his family when her mother was out of town.
Young says Tatum was supposed to be taking Relisha to school and recalled what happened during last week’s snow day.
“He says ‘oh since school is closed I am going to keep her for another week.’ I said, ‘she has school tomorrow.'”
Relisha is described as a 4-foot tall black female who weighs approximately 70-80 pounds. She has black hair, brown eyes and a medium complexion. In the Amber Alert, police said they believe Tatum to be armed and dangerous.
“I have no hatred in my heart for you. I do have respect for you, but as long as you are out there running with my granddaughter all of my feelings about you are going to change,” Young says.
In Landover on Friday, Wilson said that one of the problems is that the Amber Alert now has no current vehicle information to go on, as the white truck police thought Tatum was traveling in was found this week – with no sign of the girl.
“They’ve expanded the search to Richmond. At this point, this should be a national search because this child could be anywhere,” said Wilson.
D.C. Mayor Gray says he has been asking several city agencies what happened, assuring, “They really worked hard to try to address this issue leading up to the circumstances that we have now.”
Now the problem is finding her, as Wilson says to keep in mind that Relisha could look very different since her disappearance.
“Her appearance could have been altered. Everyone is looking for a little girl, she could be looking like a little boy, he could have cut her hair.”
A community pleas for Relisha’s return
Dozens of people gathered in Southeast Washington Saturday night for an emotional vigil to pray for the safe return of Relisha.
“I ask you to help get her back home safely,” Relisha’s mother, Shamika Young, says. “Just help us find her. I miss her. Every time I look at her pictures I cry, I break down, I can’t sleep.”
At the vigil, current and past residents of the shelter where Relisha lived questioned how Tatum was employed there. One mother says he tried to shower her daughter with gifts.
Shelter workers from the Playtime Project organized the vigil.
“She is a quiet, sweet girl who might not fight for herself,” says Danielle Rothman. “We need to be the ones fighting for her.”
Photo credit: Homeless Children’s Playtime Project