More than four years after 8-year-old Relisha Rudd disappeared from D.C., the search for the child continues, and investigators have a new idea of how she may look.
D.C. police released an age-progressed image on Thursday of how Relisha may look today, at age 12. The little girl who vanished more than four years ago would now be an adolescent.
Police described Relisha as 4 feet tall and 70 to 80 pounds, with black hair, brown eyes and a medium-brown complexion.
In January, crews searched for Relisha along the Anacostia River, after new information led police to an area near the homeless shelter where she lived, multiple sources told News4.
Police boats, dive teams, cadaver dogs, cadets and numerous police officers gathered at a portion of the river that’s just a few hundred yards from D.C. General, the dilapidated shelter where Relisha lived with her family. Only News4’s cameras were there.
The search was focused on a portion of the river near a sewer outlet and a CSX train bridge. At one point, a dog trained to sniff for cadavers appeared to hit on a spot under the train bridge. A sonar device then inspected the spot.
Police also searched the woods along the banks of the river.
Cadaver-sniffing dogs being used in the search can smell through water and hard ground.
Relisha was last seen March 1, 2014, at a motel in Northeast D.C. with Kahlil Tatum, a 51-year-old janitor at D.C. General. Her disappearance was a stain on city agencies tasked with protecting children.
In the years since her disappearance, there has been no sign of Relisha. Her grandmother, Melissa Young, previously told News4 the discovery of her body would be heartbreaking.
“I would be highly upset because I would feel as though she was just thrown away like some garbage,” she said.
Relisha’s disappearance revealed dangerous shortcomings in several city agencies and prompted the planned closure of D.C.’s largest homeless shelter.
The 8-year-old’s family had allowed her to spend time with Tatum before her disappearance. She appeared to have been missing for weeks before officials realized she was gone. Rudd, a second-grader, hadn’t been seen at Payne Elementary School since the month before her disappearance.
Police have said Rudd’s mother, Shamika Young, knew her daughter was with Tatum and did not report her missing.
But Young told News4 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.”
Investigators said on March 10, 2014, Tatum posed as a doctor, telling city officials who were concerned for the girl’s safety that she was sick with a neurological disorder and was undergoing treatment. When they asked for documents, “Dr. Tatum” said he would leave them at the shelter.
When officials went to the shelter on March 19, 2014, to pick up the paperwork, they couldn’t find “Dr. Tatum” or Rudd. Shortly after, a missing persons report was filed with D.C. police.
The next day, Tatum’s wife, Andrea Denise Tatum, was found dead in a motel in Oxon Hill, Maryland. Then, on March 31, 2014, Tatum was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in Kenilworth Park.
Police have said Tatum purchased a shovel, lime and contractor-sized trash bags, and spent a significant amount of time at Kenilworth Park around the time Rudd was last seen. Investigators have looked into the possibility Tatum killed Rudd and buried her in the park, but her body was never found.
In the years since she vanished, investigators and K-9 teams have searched multiple sites, including a construction site and the Anacostia River. It’s not known whether they’ve previously searched the area that was the focus of the search in January.
After Rudd’s disappearance, D.C. officials examined how they handled her case. Their report found the District could not have prevented the child’s disappearance, citing, in part, misleading information provided by Rudd’s family.
The report did suggest, however, more than two dozen policy changes, including matters related to how schools deal with unexcused absences, background checks for homeless shelter employees and fraternization between families and shelter staff.