UPDATED: April 4, 2014 12:50 p.m.
LANHAM, Md. (WNEW/AP) — The search of a heavily wooded park in northeast Washington for missing 8-year-old Relisha Rudd is expected to conclude by close of business Thursday, according to D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier.
Assisted by the FBI, Park Service, and other local law enforcement agencies, D.C. Police began an exhaustive search of Kenilworth Park last week. Although authorities thoroughly scoured the 700-acre park multiple times they found no trace of the girl, who was last seen alive on March 1.
“While we’re all a bit relieved that we did not find find Relisha here the way we anticipated we would find her,” Lanier said. “It’s heart-wrenchingly frustrating that we don’t have answers as to where she is right now.”
The search of park had always been categorized as a recovery operation by authorities.
“That is the bittersweet finality of today. We came here expecting the worst,” she said. “When we started we were looking for possibly a grave site. We’re relieved that we didn’t find that… we’re always hopeful. Children have been found alive years from the time of their going missing.”
The man suspected of abducting her, Kahlil Malik Tatum, was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound in the park on Monday.
Asked bluntly Thursday whether she thought Rudd was still alive, Lanier said: “We hope she’s still alive.”
Authorities will continue to investigate other leads on the whereabouts of the missing girl.
Tatum, 51, was employed as a janitor at the city homeless shelter where Rudd had been living with her family.
The discovery of Tatum’s body was a shock for police because they were focused on finding Rudd. Tatum’s body had been in the park for at least 36 hours, but possibly several days, before it was discovered, according to Lanier.
“This discovery was a shock for us,” Lanier said. “We were very focused on finding Relisha and that’s what we came here for. … We’re not finished. That search is continuing.”
The search of the park began after authorities learned Tatum spent more than two hours in that area shortly after purchasing a number of 42-gallon contractor style garbage bags, a shovel and lime on March 2.
Authorities were able to track Tatum’s movements by reviewing his cell phone usage, a police source told WNEW’s John Domen.
Prince George’s County Police had charged Tatum with the murder of his wife a hotel room two weeks ago and he was added to the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list as the search for the missing girl intensified.
Digital billboards displaying photographs of Rudd and Tatum were posted along roadways from Pennsylvania to Florida.
Tatum posed as a doctor and told school administrators that Rudd had been sick to explain repeated absences from class last month, according to Beatriz Otero, D.C. Deputy Mayor of Health and Human Services.
Shamika Young, Relisha’s mother, provided officials at Payne Elementary School in the District with the name and phone number of the “doctor,” according to Otero. Calls to the doctor, believed to have been Tatum, prevented officials from becoming immediately suspicious.
After not receiving written confirmation of Rudd’s illness, school officials visited the shelter where the girl was staying with her family. It was at that time they realized something was wrong.
Rudd’s mother had allowed her to spend time with Tatum, and her family did not report her missing.
“Yes, of course we’re frustrated about that,” Lanier said. “It’s very difficult to control individual behavior and in this case it led us to a very late start. And the very late start has been very difficult for us to catch up.”
Lanier has previously declined to comment on whether charges would be filed against Young.
Relisha is described as a black female, 4 feet tall, and weighing approximately 70 to 80 pounds. She has black hair, brown eyes, and a medium complexion. Police say she may be in need of medication.
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