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EDITORIAL: Relisha's Young Face Tells More

4/2/2014, 3 p.m.
Relisha Rudd (Courtesy of mpdc.dc.gov)

It's been a month now since Relisha Rudd went missing. The 8-year-old girl was reportedly given away by her mother to a man she trusted, 51-year-old Khalil Malik Tatum, the janitor who worked at the DC General Hospital homeless shelter in Southeast where Relisha was staying with her mother and siblings.

On Tuesday, the body of a man found dead in Kenilworth Park from an apparent suicide was positively identified as Tatum. He was also being sought for the murder of his wife who was found dead in a hotel room in Prince George's County just days after Relisha went missing. Still, no one knows where Relisha is, and while Metropolitan police officers and the FBI continue to search for her body in Kenilworth Park, Relisha's family, along with her neighbors at the shelter and others throughout the community are hoping, and praying, that she is safe and will be found soon.

The facts of this case are difficult to understand. Many observers are asking how a mother could give her child away to a strange man; and, why she didn’t report her missing child to police much earlier. As days go by, more people who had contact with Relisha and her family are eager to tell what they knew about this family in distress. Relisha's mother is described in terms related to her long-term homelessness and desperate need to get help, from anyone willing to take over the care of her children.

Former Ferebee Hope Elementary School Principal Jeffrey Grant warns that Relisha is just the face of a crisis that impacts many children in the District. “It’s not the time to point fingers,” Grant told a gathering of supporters attending a candlelight ceremony for Relisha last Monday. Too many children, he said, are at risk and are living in conditions where they are not protected by their parents or caretakers; where many people observe what’s happening in the lives of these children but feel helpless or just do nothing about it.

So, a recent report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation is not news to those who live near or serve families like Relisha’s. They have known that African-American children fare worse than other racial groups when it comes to achieving milestones from birth to adulthood and that these children face greater barriers toward overcoming the disadvantages.

In recognition of April as Child Abuse and Neglect Month, President Obama reminds Americans that “raising a healthy next generation is both a moral obligation and a national imperative,” and that “we all have a role to play in preventing child abuse and neglect and in helping young victims recover.”

At eight years old, Relisha should be enjoying another year of cheerleading, reading great books, socializing with her friends and learning from great teachers. It is a time when her greatest need is love and understanding from her mother. We have witnessed the long embraces between Relisha’s great-grandmother and her grandmother. Let’s hope when Relisha is found that she and her mother will complete the circle.