Where is Relisha Rudd? Little girl disappears amid mysterious circumstances
10/13/2017 6:00 pm PDT
She's an adorable child who goes home every night to hell -- until she becomes literally swallowed up by darkness.
It's a question that echoes across the airwaves: Where is little Relisha Rudd? And who took her?
Relisha Rudd is a charming 8-year-old girl with a life that's as hard as they come. She lives in a homeless shelter in Washington, D.C., with her mother and three younger brothers. But her mother Shamika Young says the little girl can brighten up a room, even under the worst circumstances.
But now this bright little star of her school video is at the center of one of Washington, D.C.'s biggest mysteries. She's missing, last seen on hotel surveillance video, disappearing into a hotel room with a man who had cared for her before.
But now both Relisha and her so-called "godfather" have mysteriously vanished.
"We know there were some concerns," said Theresa Vargas. She says there was always a secret world of fear hidden beneath Relisha's life at the shelter. "She would tell people at her school 'Can I stay late?' She would make up illnesses to stay at relative's homes. She didn't want to be there. She called it 'the trap house.'"
And according to Vargas, there was trouble in the family even before they moved into the shelter.
"Child Protective Services had looked into I think as early as she was 2 years old, so she was still a toddler when alarms were first raised," said Vargas. "Sometimes she would go to school dirty and with her hair unwashed, and they would keep spare clothes there for her and clean her up before class."
The afterschool Children's Playtime Project is Relisha's life raft, a place where she is safe and happy. Program director Jamila Larson remembers her well.
"She was just a joy. Our volunteers absolutely loved having her in our program," Larson tells Crime Watch Daily.
Then Relisha suddenly stops showing up for school
"There is a two- to three-week period when we're not exactly sure where Relisha was, who she was with," said Washington, D.C. Metro Police Captain Michelle Caron.
Investigators find that she has been excused for an illness. At least that's what it seems.
"We know that there were calls made to the school as far as excusing those absences, saying that she was under the care of a 'Doctor Tatum,'" said reporter Theresa Vargas.
But the school would like to know more about Relisha's condition. How serious is it? A meeting is arranged to discuss the case with Dr. Tatum at the shelter. Mysteriously, the doctor never shows up. And that leads to an alarming discovery.
She's a precious and precocious little girl in mortal danger.
"It is just shameful that she fell through the cracks of the safety net and completely disappeared," said Jamila Larson, director of the Children's Playtime Project.
School officials say they believe that Relisha is sick and under the care of a Dr. Tatum. But they are in for a shock. The man in question is named Tatum -- but he's no doctor. Far from it.
"A social worker actually goes to the shelter and asks around and realizes the only Tatum there is Kahlil Tatum, a custodian -- not a doctor at all," said Washington Post Reporter Theresa Vargas.
The supposed doctor is actually a janitor at the shelter. He doesn't have a medical diploma on the wall. But he does have an alarming rap sheet.
"He had been arrested multiple times both in Washington, D.C. and Virginia for burglary charges and other various crimes," said Prince George's County Police Captain Anthony Schartner.
Tatum spent several years in prison.
And reporter Theresa Vargas says 51-year-old Kahlil Tatum spends a lot of time with children in the building -- especially with Relisha.
"We know that the family described him as her godfather," said Vargas. "He'd buy her gifts, he would take her to the movies, take her to the mall, take her to sleepovers."
Turns out Relisha's mother Shamika knows Kahlil Tatum pretty well -- or at least she thinks she does.
"All the kids liked him. All the adults liked him," said Shamika Young.
Relisha's mother Shamika Young tells police that the little girl had been staying at her grandmother's house. But now she is missing, and so is Kahlil Tatum. Police are searching hard for both of them. But cops do uncover a troubling piece of evidence: a surveillance video from a local Holiday Inn.
It was taken on Feb. 26, 2014, around the time Relisha first stopped showing up for school. Tatum is seen on the left with little Relisha walking down the hallway. They then disappear into a hotel room.
"Because it's an open investigation, we can't really release the information as far as what videos we have available to us," said D.C. Metro Police Capt. Michelle Caron.
Police say the haunting piece of surveillance footage is taken at around the same time that Kahlil Tatum makes a simple purchase that now seems terrifying.
"What we know is that Kahlil Tatum checks into the hotel and that a day later buys 42-gallon trash bags," said Vargas.
"My belief is something went wrong. Where it went wrong, I don't know," said Shamika Young.
Then Shamika makes the stunning claim to multiple sources and to Crime Watch Daily that her mother -- Relisha's grandmother -- was involved in deceiving school officials. Then another shocker: Shamika says her mother wrote fake doctor notes to the school, saying Relisha was being cared for by the fictitious Dr. Tatum.
We could not reach Relisha's grandmother for comment. But according to a local TV news station in Washington, D.C., she in turn blamed Shamika for allowing Relisha to spend so much time with Kahlil Tatum.
Police have not fully sorted out the accusations among Relisha's family.
"Finger-pointing, things like that, well, it's something we keep to the side because it affects the investigation and we don't need it to steer us in an incorrect direction," said Capt. Caron.
Fast-forward to only one day after police begin the search for Relisha Rudd and Kahlil Tatum, and another bombshell has investigators reeling: It's the body of Kahlil Tatum's wife, Andrea Tatum, found in a hotel room in nearby Maryland.
"They found her lying in bed suffering from a gunshot wound," said Prince George's County Police Captain Anthony Schartner. "In her head."
Surveillance tapes showed Kahlil and Andrea going into the hotel room the night before the shooting. And now he is wanted for possible abduction -- and for murder.
But there is still no sign of Relisha Rudd.
"It's multi-jurisdictional, multi agencies, 24-7, we are trying to find him," said Schartner.
The story hits the national airwaves as fear for Relisha's fate escalates by the minute.
Crime Watch Daily tracked down Gerald Wills, a former friend of the murdered Andrea Tatum, who makes a shocking claim. He says Andrea was silenced because she knew too much about Relisha's fate. He says he thinks Relisha was sold.
But this frightening roller coaster of a story is about to take its biggest plunge yet: 11 days after Andrea Tatum's murder, police finally find their man -- but not as they had hoped.
Kahlil Tatum himself, the man with all the answers, is found dead in a shed inside a Washington, D.C. park.
"He suffered a single gunshot wound to his head," said Capt. Shartner.
Kahlil Tatum's death is ruled a suicide.
"We were able to link that the handgun that was used to kill himself was also the same handgun that was used to kill his wife," said Schartner.
Worst of all, there is still no trace of Relisha. Police have since conducted exhaustive searches for any trace of her dead or alive.
And there is a disturbing coincidence. Could Relisha's case be connected to another young resident of the same building?
"Ironically, I actually had a meeting with the police commander the day that the story broke," said Jamila Larson, director of the Children's Playtime Project. "It was a 14-year-old teen at D.C. General who went missing, and we found out that she was trafficked to Los Angeles, a suspected victim of sex-trafficking."
Many are hoping the innocence of another little girl can be saved as the search for Relisha Rudd continues.
"She's a sweet little girl with a great big smile and a sweet heart and just somebody that we need to find and bring home," said Capt. Michelle Caron.