This is a story that will make you lose all faith in humanity.
Relisha Rudd's absences piled up at Daniel A. Payne Elementary School, topping 30 days this year before someone notified the D.C. Child and Family Service Agency on March 13.
But it took an additional six days before the city agency took action. By then, Relisha, 8, had gone missing.
Police believe Kahlil Malik Tatum, 51, a janitor at the homeless shelter at the old D.C. General Hospital, where Relisha lived, killed his wife and now has the girl. They are looking for them up and down the East Coast.
With the search now into its eighth day with no breaks, Relisha's difficult past is coming into focus. Guardians, social workers and employees at the subsidized shelter had extensive contact with Relisha but missed or ignored repeated opportunities to intervene weeks or even years ago, records show. And her mother, who allowed Relisha to be with Tatum, told school officials her daughter was missing school because she was sick, an explanation that authorities say delayed their ability to respond.
D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) said Wednesday that agencies acted as best they could given the information they had. "To my knowledge, there wasn't sufficient evidence to have an allegation of abuse or neglect," Gray said. "I'm not going to get into a lot of details, but I certainly did read a chronology where [the school system] was told the child was sick.. . . It appears to me the agencies involved made responsible actions."
City records show that D.C. agencies had contact with Relisha and her family beginning in 2007, when the girl was 1 or 2. The records show instances of physical abuse, filthy living conditions and a lack of food. But social workers did not remove Relisha and her siblings from the home, city records show.
More recently, officials at the shelter failed to notice Tatum offering children gifts and spending time alone with Relisha, both fireable offenses.
At the same time, officials at Relisha's school struggled to figure out why she had missed nearly six weeks of class and were confused by excuses provided by her relatives, who said Relisha was safely in the care of a "Dr. Tatum." Even after police got involved, Relisha's 27-year-old mother, Shamika Young, assured reporters that Relisha was in a "safe place."
City officials defended their actions Wednesday, saying that they flagged the case in accordance with the law requiring intervention after 10 unexcused absences, while also criticizing the mother for misleading them about why the girl wasn't in school. They said that many of the 30 absences were logged in as "excused."
Her mother allowed her abductor to take her February 26. March 5 and 7 were the last days Relisha showed up at school (the 5 previous school days, she had been absent). No one even began looking for her until March 19. To add insult to injury, the DC police bungled the Amber Alert to Virginia and Maryland when they finally issued one March 21.
This grainy hotel surveillance video shows Relisha with her abductor on February 26. Thursday, March 20, police searching this hotel found Kahlil Tatum's wife dead in their hotel room.
You will find many videos now of her mother crying crocodile tears (actually, no tears— in my book, a sign of guilt. Not that she was complicit in the abduction, but that she knows she's a piece of shit mother who didn't do anything to protect her child).
This story is sickening. No one cared enough about this child to do right by her— not her mother, not her grandmother, not the school she attended, not the social services agencies, not the homeless shelter she lived in.
— Washington Post (@washingtonpost) March 27, 2014
I don't know what is going on with the DC Police— if they can't even get basic facts straight, what hope do we have that they can find the girl or Tatum?
BREAKING: Kahlil Tatum, sought in missing girl's case, bought contractor trash bags, then spent time at Kenilworth Park/Aquatic Gardens.
— NBCWashington (@nbcwashington) March 27, 2014
The police are looking in Kenilworth Park for her body, so they've given up hope that she'll be found alive.
— wusa9 (@wusa9) March 28, 2014