AMBER ALERT: DC girl search called 'Recovery' operation

WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- Metropolitan Police Department Police Chief Cathy Lanier said police have been searching in a Northeast D.C. park after receiving information that an alleged murderer and child abductor spent time there.

Relisha Rudd's mother gave permission for the eight-year-old to be with Khalil Tatum, according to Lanier. But that was weeks ago.

Relisha has not been seen since March 1, when she was seen with Tatum, a janitor at the DC General Homeless Shelter where Relisha had lived with her mother and step-father for the last year.

On March 2, police determined that Tatum bought some black 42-gallon trash bags, a shovel and lime or lye - a chemical sometimes used in the burying of bodies - in D.C. and was seen at the Kenilworth Aquatic Center and Park soon after those purchases, said Lanier.

"This trash bag thing really has me scared now," said Belinda Wheeler, Relisha's step-grandmother. "You're not going to do no lawnscaping, landscaping or whatever. Why you buying trash bags? Makes me think [Tatum is] trying to hide something. He's trying to hide something."

Tatum was seen at work and other places, between March 2nd and March 20th, says Lanier, but Relisha was not with him.

D.C. police officers, search dogs and FBI agents combed an area of Kenilworth Park all morning Thursday looking for something in connection with the disappearance of Relisha. The area is taped off. A source told WNEW that police determined Tatum, Relisha's suspected abductor, was near Kenilworth Park for two hours a few weeks ago.

"We're not making any assumptions but I think it would be prudent for us to search, and this is a very large area, search this area. We cannot ignore the possibility that he may have killed her," said Chief Lanier, who added that, what began as a search for Relisha, is now being called a recovery effort.

"To me, that sounds like she's dead," said Wheeler. "I don't want to think this, I want her brought back home, but once again, once you're under pressure you're liable to do anything," she added about Tatum, who Wheeler thinks may panic and hurt Relisha.

The Metropolitan Police Department said in a statement Thursday night that they have suspended the search for Thursday evening. "No evidence was located during the search thus far. The search will resume Friday morning and an update will be provided midday," officials said in a press release.

Relisha Rudd has been missing since February 26th. She had been living at the D.C. General homeless shelter in Northeast D.C. with her mother and step-father. Tatum was the janitor at the shelter. An Amber Alert was issued for Relisha on March 20.

Lanier on Thursday talked briefly about the controversy surrounding the Amber Alert. She said that there were regulations for Amber Alerts and that certain criteria must be met to issue one.

According to Lanier, Relisha's mother told officials that Tatum was her godfather and Relisha was with him with her permission. Relisha's mother added that there had been no issues in the past with Tatum.

The FBI placed Kahlil Tatum on its Most Wanted list for murder on Wednesday.

Law enforcement officials said that Tatum has connections to the Richmond, VA and Atlanta, GA areas, but that they have no strong evidence he is there. He is believed to have ties to the area. Digital signs along Atlanta freeways are flashing a description of Tatum, who is charged with first-degree murder in the death of his wife, Andrea.

Her body was found in an Oxon Hill motel room on March 20 by police who were following leads to Relisha's disappearance.

"He killed his wife," said Wheeler of Tatum, who is charged with killing Andrea Tatum, 51. Tatum has not been convicted. "If you could kill your wife of 23 years, what about a child that you've only known a year?"

He has also been charged by the United States Attorney's Office in Maryland for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.


A children's program that Relisha Rudd participated in has launched a social media effort to find her. The Homeless Children's Playtime Project posted a blog saying, in part, "Our staff and volunteers are on full alert and working 24 hours a day with the media and police to help with the ongoing search. We are calling on our supporters to help and hope you will consider one of the following to help keep focus on the case and bring Relisha home..."

Staff then call for people to change their profile photo on Facebook or Twitter to an Amber Alert flyer of Relisha and Tatum, post recent news stories to keep the news in their feed, print a flier for their neighborhood or other areas, and share Relisha's photos.




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