D.C.

Chief Lanier answers questions in Relisha Rudd case

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WASHINGTON (WJLA) - D.C.'s Police Chief is clearing a man who was questioned in the disappearance of Relisha Rudd. The little girl was last seen more than a month ago. And the city's top cop spent Wednesday morning answering questions about the investigation.

Easter clothes purchased for Rudd by Tatum

D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said Wednesday that the investigation is still ongoing, but that the man in the newest surveillance video released by detectives has been cleared.

Meanwhile, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray has ordered two deputy mayors to conduct a review of the case of missing eight-year-old Rudd, and discussed on Wednesday the D.C. General Family Homeless Shelter, where Rudd was residing when she disappeared.

"It is not a place that a child should be raised, clearly," he said.

And while Gray is ordering a review of city agencies to see if anything could have been done differently to prevent this, he said the child’s family has to bear some of the blame:

"Remember, parents have a responsibility also, and the parents -- the mother and the grandmother -- certainly played a role in this."

However, social worker Danielle Rothman with the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project insists we shouldn’t be so quick to judge Relisha’s mother.

In early March, Tatum never brought Relisha back after a visit, and her mother did not report her missing. It was a school counselor who realized and reported the girl’s disappearance, and Lanier says that this time lapse was critical:

"What really hurt us is not even becoming aware of her being missing until three or four weeks from the last time she was seen...that's really a killer."

The next day on Thursday, Rudd's grandmother defended her family amid the accusations:

"If people only knew Relisha Tenae Rudd -- I love that little girl with all of my heart and I wish people would stop judging because only God can judge,” she said.

"It breaks my heart, it truly breaks my heart to hear that I could have possibly played a part in a role in her disappearance."

Young added that her daughter Shamika – Relisha’s mother – was in court on Friday in a custody matter involving her three other sons, so she couldn’t speak on camera. Young said that her family is being targeted and treated unfairly.

When we asked her what she thought people thought she was lying about, she replied: "Her being sold. Her being dead. My role by my saying i didn't have a part they think I am lying about the last time I seen her."

The shelter is where eight-year-old Rudd lived with her mother and brothers; it is also where she met janitor Khalil Tatum, her alleged abductor, and one of the last places she was seen alive more than one month ago.

"I'd like to close D.C. General, but we've got to have a place people can go in crisis," said Gray.

"They would have to provide somewhere else for us to go -- if not, look how many familes and kids will be on the streets, some people literally have no place to go," said one mother who lives at the shelter with her five-year-old son. He went to school with Relisha Rudd.

He nodded when we asked her whether he missed his friend.

The mayor said plans are in the works to move 500 homeless families in 100 days into housing. This is in process as Police Chief Cathy Lanier was asked on WTOP about the possibility of Rudd being the victim of child sex trafficking.

In response, Lanier said: "We are exploring all those avenues. We have experts on our team that have been leading our investigation from our child exploitation task force that are working with the FBI."

“It would break my heart if I found out that she did go through something like that because I was once a victim like that," said Melissa Young.

"She never sold her, she never gave him custody, she never told him he could live with her," said Young about the allegations that Shamika sold Relisha to Khalil.

The last confirmed sighting of Relisha was March 1, but police didn’t receive any calls until March 19.

"If I had known she was not around I would have called the police," insists Young. "I cry every day every day, that is all I can do."

Rudd’s grandmother and aunt provided two pictures to ABC 7 News, and told us that Tatum bought Rudd the dress and sweater last November for her to wear this upcoming Easter.

The women are asking the public for help and that if anyone finds the clothing discarded, this might help in the search for Relisha.

Lanier also said on WTOP that police do not think the man seen in the video walking around a metro station recently was involved in any way with the little girl's disappearance. That man, who is not being identified, came to police. He did have contact with Khalil Tatum.

"He actually came to us himself when he heard his picture was out there," said Chief Lanier. "Really nothing new has come out of that. It really wasn't something that we anticipated getting a lot of information out of, but we want to leave no stone unturned."

Lanier still holds out hope that the child is alive but admits getting such a late start on the search frusturates her. And when police determined the timing of the purchase of trash bags by Tatum and the fact that he spent time at Kenilworth Park made them very concerned. The 51- year old janitor was found dead of an apparent self inflicted gunshot wound at the park. No clues of Relisha Rudd were found.

The chief says there are many different angles they are exploring - including working with the child exploitation task force for the potential of sex trafficking. The mayor says there is no indication the city has mishandled the investigation.

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