Renewed call for information in 2014 Washington, D.C. disappearance of 8-year-old Relisha Rudd
July 11, 2022
“I know what it’s like to have someone missing and not knowing — not knowing what happened or what’s going on with them,” Derrick Butler told Dateline. “I have a sister that went missing.”
Derrick’s sister, Pamela Butler, disappeared in Washington, D.C. in 2009. Dateline followed Pam’s story for years, and most recently reported on her case in an episode called ‘A Haunting Stretch of Road.’
Derrick never gave up trying to find out what happened to Pam and he continues to be an advocate for other people of color searching for missing loved ones. He is closely invested in the work that sisters-in-law Derrica and Natalie Wilson are doing with the Black and Missing Foundation, as well.
“The Metropolitan Police Department knew that I was very involved in my sister’s disappearance,” Derrick told Dateline. “They actually called me and asked me: Did I want to be involved in a search?”
It was the search for 8-year-old Relisha Rudd, who had disappeared from a homeless shelter where she lived with her family in the district.
Relisha Rudd was last seen on security footage on March 1, 2014, with a janitor from the shelter, Kahlil Tatum.
Relisha attended a nearby elementary school and had suddenly stopped showing up in February.
“The school system tried to get her back in school,” Derrick Butler told Dateline. “She fell through the cracks — because nobody actually followed up.”
According to NBC affiliate NEWS4, Relisha had been absent from school but “officials were told that Relisha was sick.” Investigators said it was Tatum who posed as a doctor “telling city officials who were concerned for her safety that Relisha was sick with a neurological disorder and undergoing treatment.”
Officials requested documentation and “Dr. Tatum” told them he would leave the paperwork at the shelter. When they went to pick up the paperwork at the shelter on March 19, 2014, they couldn’t find a “Dr. Tatum” and there was no sign of Relisha, either. City officials subsequently filed a missing persons report.
Derrick Butler is a retired teacher. “I’m speaking from a little bit of what I know,” he told Dateline. “That school system is already overwhelmed.” He believes that the school attempted to reach out about Relisha’s absences and was waiting on further information. “They probably said, ‘We’re gonna leave it at that,’” Derrick said. “And then, ‘I’m working on 50 other cases’ and by the time [they] circled back around to it, you know, a whole bunch of time had lapsed.”
When the 8-year-old was officially reported missing, she had not been seen for weeks.
The Metropolitan Police Department issued a press release on Thursday, March 20, 2014, detailing what they knew at the time.
“I think in this particular case that the Metropolitan Police Department did a fantastic job,” Derrick told Dateline. “We just had a lot of obstacles to try to overcome. By the time we realized that something was really going on with her, you know, she had been gone for a month, at that point.”
Derrick told Dateline that when Relisha disappeared, “the whole city was involved.” He said, “The whole police department got involved. I mean, everybody was involved in this case.”
Derrick said he jumped right in to help search for Relisha. “I have just been, you know, completely involved in it,” Derrick said. “I just wanted to bring some kind of closure or help to the family.”
According to an article posted by NEWS4 on Thursday, March 20, 2014, “The desperate search for 8-year-old Relisha Tenau Rudd of D.C. began Thursday with an Amber Alert, saying she was believed to be in the company of Kahlil Tatum.”
At the time, Relisha’s mother, Shamika Young, told NEWS4 that she had known Tatum for years and “trusted him with her daughter.” She detailed that Relisha left the shelter with Tatum multiple times, to go shopping or see Disney on Ice. Tatum had also bought Relisha a tablet for Christmas.
According to NEWS4, the search for Relisha led officers to a Red Roof Inn in Prince George’s County, Maryland on March 20, 2014. Inside, they found Tatum’s wife, Andrea. She had been shot to death.
The Metropolitan PD stated in their press release that Relisha might have been traveling with Tatum in a white 1976 GMC truck. NEWS4 reported that by Friday, March 21, 2014, the truck had been found in “Hyattsville, Maryland, without a sign of the missing girl.”
On March 25, 2014, the Metropolitan Police Department Chief at the time, Cathy Lanier, released a statement that said she is “very satisfied with the efforts of our regional partners to publicize this case” and appreciates the “overwhelming support from the media and government agencies.”
Chief Lanier also wrote that their “urgent priority is to locate this girl.” Chief Lanier’s statement noted that the FBI had announced a reward of up to $25,000 for information leading to the location and return of Relisha Rudd.
Dateline spoke with the Metro Police Department’s Public Affairs Specialist Alaina Gertz today, who confirmed that the reward is still active. According to the 2014 press release, a separate reward was also being offered by the Prince George’s County Police Department for anyone who could provide information leading to an arrest and indictment in the homicide of Andrea Tatum, for which Kahlil Tatum was being sought.
Reporters from NEWS4 continued to follow Relisha’s case closely. As details became clearer, they reported that the last confirmed sighting of Relisha was on March 1 at a district motel. On March 25, 2014, the FBI released surveillance footage of Tatum and Relisha on February 26, 2014, at a different hotel in Northeast Washington, D.C. The release states that “the video shows Tatum and Rudd walking down a hallway in the hotel. Rudd is wearing a pair of pink boots and a purple Helly Hansen brand jacket with white stripes.”
NEWS4 reported that police said Tatum bought “contractor-sized trash bags and spent considerable time in Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens” in Northeast Washington, D.C., right near the Maryland border, on March 2, 2014. Tatum was added to the FBI’s Wanted List and an arrest warrant for Tatum was issued in Prince George’s County, Maryland for his wife’s murder.
“They went in just the way I thought they should have: full force,” Derrick Butler told Dateline. “They wanted to find out what happened, what people know, you know? ‘Can we find her?’ ‘Is she still alive?’”
Investigators focused on Kenilworth Park as an area of interest in the case and planned grid searches on foot, plus dispatched dive teams in the small bodies of water throughout the park.
Cathy Lanier, chief of police at the time, said that officers were preparing for the “worst-case scenario” during their search for Relisha. “We cannot ignore the possibility that [Tatum] may have killed her,” Lanier said in a press conference. “Given the circumstances right now, we are fearful of leaving any stones unturned.”
Derrick Butler told Dateline he was there for the search of Kenilworth Park on March 31, 2014. “When we searched Kenilworth Park… the police actually found the guy, Kahlil Tatum, who was the last person she was with. Found his body in the – in the park in a building.”
A press release issued by the Metropolitan PD on April 1, 2014, stated that on March 31, 2014, around 12:30 p.m. the Metropolitan Police Department located “an adult male, who appeared to have sustained an apparent gunshot wound and did not show any signs of life” in the Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens in Northeast Washington, D.C. The body was identified as Kahlil Tatum.
“We thought they’d want to shut down the search, at that point,” Derrick told Dateline. “But they didn’t. They were pretty sure that [Relisha] was out there somewhere and they continued to let us search for probably about another 4 or 5 hours.”
Relisha was nowhere to be found.
Relisha’s disappearance led many to wonder how this could possibly have happened. In September of 2014, district officials took an in-depth look at how Relisha’s case was initially handled. NEWS4 reported that a review of her case brought about more than two dozen policy changes, but “concluded that none of those reforms would have prevented her disappearance.”
The report cited, in part, that misleading information provided by Relisha’s family is why the city could not have prevented her disappearance. The report also suggested changes regarding “how schools deal with unexcused absences, background checks for homeless shelter employees, and fraternization between families and shelter staff.”
The shelter where Relisha lived has since closed.
On March 3, 2015, one year after Relisha disappeared, Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser held a press conference to provide an update on the investigation. Mayor Bowser stated that her “administration is reevaluating ways to strengthen public safety and our procedures and programming so that we respond efficiently and effectively to families – especially children who are at risk.”
In that same conference, the police chief at the time, Cathy Lanier, said that “this continues to be an open and active investigation.” In December of 2015, the Metropolitan Police Department provided information about an additional search for Relisha in areas other than Kenilworth Park, but according to the press release, no new information was discovered.
It has now been 8 years since Relisha disappeared.
When Dateline spoke with the Metro Police Department’s Public Affairs Specialist Alaina Gertz earlier today, she stated the same thing that Police Chief Lanier did in 2015: “It’s an open and active investigation.” She also stressed that the Metropolitan Police Department has “never given up on our search for her.”
In 2020, Mayor Bowser announced that Robert J. Contee III had been selected as the new Chief of Police. “The new police chief that we have, he was born and raised in Washington – he definitely wants [Relisha’s] case solved,” Derrick Butler told Dateline. “But you know, you get to a point that you exhausted all your leads and where do you go from there?”
Derrick believes the Metropolitan Police Department will not stop working on Relisha’s case until she is found. “That case is never — it’s never gonna be in a standstill,” Derrick said. But, he added, “They need leads. They need tips.”
Today, July 11, is Relisha Rudd Remembrance Day in the district. Derrick Butler told Dateline that on this day, people in the community join together and go out to push for answers in Relisha’s case. “We always go out to the last place that we know that she was actually seen and pass out flyers,” Derrick said. “We go back to that same place – the hotel. We stand out on the street, cast out flyers and just — hoping that somebody will ride by that actually knows something, that was scared to say something before.”
The DC Police Department posted on Twitter today and emphasized what they always have: They have not given up on the search for Relisha Rudd. Included with the post is an age-progressed photo of what Relisha might look like today.
“I think they’re doing a phenomenal job with the case. You know, you just get to a point that nobody’s telling anything,” Derrick Butler said. “I don’t know where else they could really go other than doing what they’re doing.”
The Black and Missing Foundation has featured Relisha’s case prominently on their website and in their HBO documentary ‘Black and Missing.’ They also continue to post about Relisha’s case on the anniversary of her disappearance and today, Relisha Rudd Remembrance Day.
Relisha would now be 16 years old. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children released a new age-progression image of Relisha, showing what she might look like today.
The Metro Police Department asks that if anyone has information regarding Relisha’s disappearance that they contact the police at 202-727-9099 or text the tip line at 50411.
Photo credit: National Center for Missing and Exploited Children