WASHINGTON (AP) — A search of a District of Columbia park for a missing 8-year-old girl is a "recovery operation," although police haven't given up hope of finding the child alive, Chief Cathy Lanier said Thursday.
Relisha Tenau Rudd was last seen in the city on March 1 with Kahlil Malik Tatum, a janitor at the city homeless shelter where Relisha lived.
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 and Tatum. FBI spokeswoman Lindsay Godwin said the agency is "casting a wide net" for Tatum.
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 is 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 there had not been any confirmed sightings of Tatum since shortly after his wife's homicide. 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.
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