This is the last post I’ll write about Relisha Rudd, the 8-year-old girl who was abducted from DC General Shelter and is now presumed dead.
I met Relisha a year ago, when I was filming a video for the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project. The video was to persuade people to chip in so DC could build a playground for the over 500 kids who live at the shelter.
Relisha was one of those kids.
In preparation for the video shoot, I’d asked the volunteers at Playtime Project to try and get the brightest, most engaged kids to be in the video. When I met Relisha, I could see why she was chosen. She was smart, animated, and keenly observant of what we were doing, from the boom mic above her head to the lights and cameras.
Shortly afterwards, Relisha went with Kahlil Tatum, a janitor at the shelter who, police believe, killed his wife, himself, and Relisha.
A tragedy, and one that reminded me of Brianna Blackmond, another DC child who lost her life, simply by slipping through the cracks of DC’s justice system. Her story informed the writing of my first novel. In the aftermath of six-month-old Brianna’s death, the justice system at first tired to hide behind privacy regulations, as though the murdered were concerned about their privacy. This tragedy made national news and led to calls for an overhaul of the DC Child Welfare system.
Now, with Relisha, the District agency in charge claimed in a 12-page report that “no justifiable government actions would have prevented Relisha’s tragic disappearance.”
While I don’t believe for a moment that’s true, I can understand the difficulties any agency would face in the case of Relisha. Her mother not only allowed her daughter to go home with Tatum, but seems to have falsified documents, such as giving her daughter’s school notes from a “Dr Tatum” to explain Relisha’s many absences.
So what do we do when the parents of homeless children are so messed up? Wash our hands and say it couldn’t be helped? As Petula Dvorak, a Washington Post columnist wrote, the problem has its root causes in homelessness. If only Relisha had lived in a neighborhood, had friends there, this may have never happened. If only Relisha’s mother had not been homeless herself, this may have never happened. If only.
On a happier note, the playground for the kids at the shelter was finally built. It’s a beautiful place, and the children get to run and exercise and have a great time. You can hear it in their voices, see it in the smiles on their faces. I’m sorry only that Relisha is not here to enjoy it.