Friends, neighbors, and family of Relisha Rudd, 8, gathered on the corner of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X avenues southeast on March 31. It was just hours after police confirmed that main suspect in the abduction committed suicide. Relisha, however, is still missing. While police remain hopeful, they say they are not certain whether Relisha is alive or dead.
In response to the news, Trayon White organized a walk and prayer vigil for her safe return. “The reality is that this happens all the time in our community,” said White. “This event is not about me, it’s not about us. It’s about the community, it’s about the baby, and her coming home.”
Relisha’s grandparents and great grandmother joined the marchers as they handed fliers to residents, displayed signs, and chanted, “Bring her home.” After walking for about half an hour, they stopped at a parking lot and sang, “He’s got the whole world in His hands.” Then White led the group in prayer.
“I just want whoever, anybody sees her to bring her home,” said Relisha’s grandmother Melissa Young as she cried. Relisha’s great grandmother, Mary Young, shared those same sentiments. Relisha’s step-grandmother Belinda Wheeler, who helped raise her, said she never thought Tatum was a threat.
Before Relisha was abducted, she had heard about him, but nothing that made her think he was dangerous. “I hate to even think of the worst,” said Wheeler. “At this point, just bring her back, one way or the other.”
Relisha was last seen by her mother, Shamika Young on Feb. 26, when she allowed Tatum, 51, a janitor at the homeless shelter where her family was staying, to take her home. Relisha was reported missing on March 19 by a social worker from her school after she went to the shelter to find a “Dr. Tatum,” who had sent several excuse notes concerning Relisha’s absence from school. An amber alert was issued March 20, the day after the social worker confirmed “Dr. Tatum” never existed.
It has been reported that Relisha was spotted March 1 at a motel on New York Avenue with Khalil Tatum, 51, a janitor at the homeless shelter where Relisha lived with her mother and three siblings. Tatum, identified as the main suspect in the abduction, was reportedly seen March 2 buying a shovel, contractor-sized garbage bags and lime, then later was spotted in Kenilworth Park.
Relisha’s mother Shamika Young, absent from the vigil, reportedly said she trusted Tatum was a good man. Reports say she did not report Relisha missing because she feared authorities would take away her other children.
Bernadette Chatman, a D.C. resident, said she came out to the vigil because she has grandchildren and it hurts to think that it could have been one of them. “I’m out here to support the fact that he needs to send her home to us. They say it takes a village to raise one child, so I am a part of the village,” she said.