In the years since the search for Relisha Rudd began, many District residents, both young and old, have either gone missing or succumbed to violent acts in cases that have remained unsolved.
This trend, some activists and missing person advocates say, stems from people’s reluctance to cooperate with the police.
As part of an ongoing effort to solidify police-community relations, some activists have taken to the streets to educate D.C. residents about the benefits of police cooperation and encourage them to reveal any information they know about Relisha’s disappearance and the recent shooting death of six-year-old Nyiah Courtney.
“A lot of people in the community don’t want to deal with the police but we’ve got to break away from the street code,” said Henderson Long, an investigator and missing persons advocate.
On Sunday, Long, some of his colleagues, members of the Metropolitan Police Department’s Youth and Family Services Division, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, converged near the 7-Eleven on the corner of 49th Street and Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue in Northeast for “Relisha Rudd Remembrance Day.”
For several hours, participants passed out age-progression photos of Relisha who disappeared in 2014 at the age of 8, along with information about a $50,000 reward. In the weeks before the event, organizers also circulated a petition demanding D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) to increase the reward amount to $75,000.
During the event, passersby heard about how fingerprinting services, DNA databases, scent preservation toolkits and drone technology can make a difference in solving missing persons cases.
“It’s a lot easier to call for help,” Long said. “People have to be educated and understand the significance of immediately reporting their missing loved ones. No one is going to check if you’ve got any warrants. Law enforcement wants to help you find your loved one.”
Seven Years and Counting
March 1 marked seven years since Relisha, then 8, was first reported missing after school officials grew suspicious about her prolonged absence.
Camera footage from 18 days prior placed her at a local motel with Khalil Tatum, a janitor at the then-open D.C. General Shelter where Relisha stayed with her family. Police later found Tatum’s wife dead at a hotel in Prince George’s County and the body of Tatum in a shed at Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens.
Though Relisha’s case gained momentum within the beltway, it failed to attract nationwide attention other than a segment on the Steve Wilkos Show on the CW network in 2017. During that segment, Shamika Young, Relisha Rudd’s mother, declined to take a polygraph test about her alleged role in Relisha’s disappearance.
For years, there’s been speculation about the part that Relisha’s family played in her disappearance, and why Young, upon being questioned about her daughter’s absences, told school officials Relisha had been under the care of a “Dr. Tatum.”
Dialogue about this case has often centered on how best to protect young people and other vulnerable members of society.
Frederick Hill III, a missing persons advocate of more than 20 years, told The Informer that stronger legislation would have prevented Tatum from working in places frequented by children. He said without the proper protections against repeat offenders, well-meaning people are less likely to trust the authorities.
“People are scared to offer any information because [the information] might include them in the scheme, so to speak,” said Hill, a business owner and one-time D.C. Council candidate.
“For years, we’ve been dumped on like that. Unless they’ve been counseled on their rights and how to protect themselves when giving information, it makes it hard for people to come forward.”
Calling on Police to Do More
In neighboring Prince George’s County, go-go pioneer Michael Muse has faced similar hurdles in his attempt to get answers about his son Christian Muse, who disappeared nearly a decade ago from the Glassmanor area of Oxon Hill, Maryland.
Adding Muse’s frustrations — the primary contact within the Prince George’s County Police Department for Christian Muse’s case has changed over the last nine years. All the while, Muse has recounted not receiving much in terms of updates from the police, even as tips continue to pour in about his son’s whereabouts.
While he has advocated cooperation with the police in missing persons cases, Muse told the Informer that police departments must also be diligent about locating the missing and keeping their family members abreast of the latest developments in their investigation.
He said that has not been the case in his situation.
“Police need to be more accessible,” said Muse, a one-time member of Rare Essence. “It’s never been that way. It’s like running a race with muddy boots. As a community, we need to be more proactive with any missing person, no matter what color they are. It’s one of those things people don’t think about until it happens to them.”

Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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