WASHINGTON (AP) — Police in the nation’s capital say they believe that a body found in a park is believed to be that of a murder suspect who was the last person seen with a missing 8-year-old girl.
Police Chief Cathy Lanier said the body found Monday has been tentatively identified as that of 51-year-old Kahlil Tatum. Tatum was a janitor at the city homeless shelter where 8-year-old Relisha Rudd had been living with her family.
Relisha was last seen on March 1, in Tatum’s company. Her mother had given her permission to be with him. Police started searching for her on March 19 following repeated absences from school. The next day, Tatum’s wife was found dead from a gunshot wound to the head in a motel room in suburban Maryland.
A day later, Tatum bought a carton of 42-gallon contractor trash bags at a store in Washington and was seen in the area of the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, Lanier said. Tatum, 51, continued to go to work after that and was seen throughout the city, but Relisha was not seen with him, Lanier said.
“We cannot ignore the possibility that he may have killed her,” Lanier said at a news conference at the park, where officials had cordoned off entrances with yellow crime scene tape.
Digital billboards along the East Coast are displaying photos of Relisha.
Relisha’s repeated absences from school led authorities last week to look for her, although her family had not reported her missing.
The morning after the search began, police found Tatum’s wife, 51-year-old Andrea Tatum, dead in a motel room in nearby Oxon Hill, Md. Tatum was charged with fatally shooting her in the head. A charging document says Andrea Tatum’s daughter told authorities her mother was having domestic problems with her husband and was contemplating leaving him.
Lanier said the girl’s family identified Tatum as Relisha’s “godfather” and that she had her mother’s permission to be with him.
It was Relisha’s 10 unexcused absences from school that prompted social workers to go on March 19 to the shelter where her family was staying, said Pedro Ribeiro, a spokesman for D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray.
Before that, however, her mother told school officials that Relisha was sick, and her grandmother gave officials Tatum’s telephone number, saying he was her doctor. Reached by phone, Tatum told officials Relisha had a “neurological illness” and that she would be in and out of school, Ribeiro said.
Relisha’s siblings continued to go to school, and officials believed Relisha had been seen at school March 5 and 7, but those records have been called into question, Ribeiro said.
“We are continuing to review and investigate this entire timeline,” Ribeiro said.