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Missing UVA Student Puts Spotlight on Months-Long Search for 8-Year-Old

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ABC News
Rheana Murray
September 24, 2014

The sad search continues for an 8-year-old girl who vanished from Washington, D.C. in March, months after her suspected kidnapper was found dead — with her case getting renewed attention due to the case of a missing UVa student.

Relisha Rudd was last seen with Kahlil Malik Tatum, 51, a janitor at the family homeless shelter where Rudd and her mother lived. Police believe Tatum, also facing charges for his wife’s murder, kidnapped Rudd before he committed suicide. He was found dead with a self-inflicted gunshot wound on April 1 in Kenilworth Park in northeastern Washington, the FBI said.

The search for a missing University of Virginia student Hannah Graham has sparked renewed interest in Rudd’s case, as supporters turn to social media to urge the public not to forget about the young girl.

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“We continue to look for her,” FBI spokesman Andrew Ames told ABC News today. “There were a lot of tips that came in when she was initially reported missing, and we continue to receive tips and follow up on them.”

The Metropolitan Police Department is also involved in the ongoing investigation. The FBI is offering a reward of up to $25,000 for information leading to Rudd’s return.

The city has also looked into whether more could have been done to keep Rudd safe.

An internal report presented at a District of Columbia Council hearing earlier this month revealed her school delayed reporting unexcused absences to Child and Family Services to give Rudd’s mother, Shamika Young, additional time to collect medical documentation to justify the absences. She later told the school her daughter was sick and “under the care of a Dr. Tatum,” referring to the janitor at the shelter, who is not a doctor, according to the report.

The review also points out that Tatum had a criminal history and violated the shelter’s policy, which prohibited relationships between staff and residents. The report recommends the school and shelter review their policies.

But the city says it did “not find evidence that these tragic events were preventable.”

Tatum’s wife Andrea Tatum was found shot to death in a hotel in Maryland on March 20, 2014, the day after Rudd was reported missing.

Rudd and Tatum were seen on surveillance footage at a Holiday Inn Express in late February.

The Black and Missing Foundation, a nonprofit in Maryland, said Rudd could be the victim of sex trafficking.

“It’s truly disheartening, what happened to her,” co-founder Natalie Wilson said today. “We continue to search for Relisha. We have not given up hope.”

“We understand that there is a sense of distrust within the minority community of law enforcement,” she added, asking anyone who has tips to reach out to the group’s anonymous tip line. “We know someone holds the clue as to what happened to her.”

Young, who has three other children, has defended herself against critics who suggested she didn’t keep a close eye on her daughter.

“Can’t nobody put their feet in my shoes. Don’t nobody know what’s going through my mind and what’s running through my head,” Young said when she called into an Internet radio show discussing her daughter’s disappearance in April, ABC affiliate WJLA reported.

ABC News could not reach Young for comment.

The Facebook group “Help Find Relisha Rudd” is hosting a prayer event on Oct. 1, urging supporters to light a candle at home and say a prayer for Rudd’s safe return.

“The investigation into the disappearance of Relisha Rudd is an active and on-going criminal investigation,” the Metropolitan Police Department said in a statement. “The investigation has generated hundreds of tips; all tips have been investigated, documented and incorporated into the investigative file.

Photo credit: FBI

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