If you live in the DC metro area, you’ve probably read about Relisha Rudd. The story can be found here, but perhaps it’s enough to say she’s an innocent victim, abducted from the DC shelter for homeless families. She remains missing.
In 2010, when I created my private eye Willis Gidney, I gave him a back story similar to the kids who live at the shelter. So I have a special interest and compassion for homeless children.
I met Relisha about a month before her abduction. I was filming a fund-raiser for some folks who want to build a playground for the shelter’s 500 kids, as currently there is none. Prior to filming, I’d asked the Playtime Project volunteers to locate the kids who seem especially bright, engaged, and personable. These kids would be the pool of subjects, from which we’d draw the kids we wanted to feature in our video. Relisha was one of those kids.
Relisha was a beautiful and active child, and I had trouble keeping her in focus. She bounced in her chair, asked me about the camera, looked at the mic over her head, and asked how come the mic wasn’t near me. An intelligent child. She told me she was eight years old.
Unlike some of the other kids, Relisha’s mother wasn’t present for filming. We used a Playtime Project volunteer for Relisha to react to during the shoot.
The filming ended, and I went home. I didn’t know anything else about Relisha. Then, a month later, the Playtime Project contacted me – Relisha had been abducted from the shelter, they believed, and could I send them a copy of the footage I had shot? I did so and, heart pounding, went to search her name online as the video file uploaded. Over the next few days I read about Relisha’s dysfunctional family, about her mother having substance abuse issues, about how she had let a shelter janitor, Khalil Tatum, give Relisha gifts and sweets – against the shelter’s rules. When Relisha went missing, the school asked the mother where the child was, and the mother said she was sunder the care of “Dr Tatum.”
Searching for Tatum, the police found his car at a motel in southern Maryland. Not far from the motel they found a dead woman, later identified as Tatum’s wife. So now Tatum was a suspect in murder as well as abduction.
Not long after, Tatum’s body was found, an apparent suicide. To this day, no one knows where Relisha is, or is she is still alive.
The point of all this? That life is precious, and that for kids in the shelter, life is fragile as well. I wish I had known, when I met Relisha, of the danger she was in, so I could try and help her. But of course none of us are gifted with that kind of vision.
All we can do is try to help the kids who need It most. So I plan to continue working with the Playtime Project. I also plan to volunteer, which means spending supervised time with the kids, reading to them, and doing simple craft projects. It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing. And maybe, just maybe, Relisha’s story will make a few more people notice the homeless and think, what can I do to help?