WASHINGTON — A review of interactions between the District of Columbia government and the family of a missing 8-year-old girl has recommended more than two dozen policy changes but concluded that none of those reforms would have prevented her disappearance.
Relisha Rudd was last seen on March 1 in the company of a janitor at the homeless shelter where the girl lived with her mother and brothers. Relisha’s family had allowed her to spend time with Khalil Tatum. After Relisha was reported missing, the body of Tatum’s wife was found in a motel, and Tatum was later found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Six months after she was last seen, Relisha remains missing. Tatum’s body was found in a 700-acre park in northeast Washington, but police found no sign of Relisha there after a several-day search.
On Tuesday, the District government released a report about its dealings with Relisha’s family that drew from interviews with 16 city employees and contractors. It recommended 26 policy changes on matters including how schools deal with unexcused absences, background checks for homeless shelter employees and fraternization between families and shelter staff.
“Given the law’s extraordinary deference to parents, I do not believe District agencies could have done anything that would have changed the sad outcome,” Mayor Vincent Gray said in a statement.
Abigail Smith, the city’s deputy mayor for education, who was part of the team that prepared the report, said factors beyond the government’s control, including “decisions that the family made,” prevented the city from doing more to intervene.
Repeated absences from school led authorities to start looking for Relisha on March 19, more than two weeks after she was last seen. Her family had reported that she “was sick and that she was under the care of a Dr. Tatum,” and it wasn’t until a school social worker visited the shelter that authorities discovered Tatum was not a doctor, the report said. School officials said that they delayed reporting the absences earlier in order to give Relisha’s mother more time to provide adequate documentation.
“They were provided false information from the family about the child’s situation,” Smith said. “That is just not something that any policy or procedure could have changed.”
The report recommended enhanced background checks for homeless shelter employees who come into contact with children, but it concluded that even those more stringent checks would not have prevented Tatum, who had convictions for burglary and breaking and entering, from being hired.
Metropolitan Police Department spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump said Tuesday that the investigation into Relisha’s disappearance remains open and active and that there were no new leads to report to the public.
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