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Remembering Relisha Rudd and Other Missing Children

Collage of three photos of Relisha Rudd as a child.

In 2014, 8-year-old Relisha Rudd went missing from the now-closed DC General Family Shelter. Despite being seen in hotel camera footage with a man who worked as a janitor at DC General, she is still missing to this day. Systemic failures at multiple levels made this case a high-profile example of how too many children, particularly those living with housing insecurity, fall through the cracks. July 11th has been designated as Relisha Rudd Remembrance Day with the hope that she will be found. This year, she would be 17 years old.  

Playtime Project has a close connection to this case. At the time, DC General was Playtime’s largest site partner. Relisha was one of our beloved Playtime participants, whom we served for 18 months. About a year and a half before Relisha went missing, another Playtime participant went missing from the shelter. (Read the Washington Post article here.) Playtime Founder and Executive Director, Jamila Larson, had an appointment with a DC Police commander to discuss that case and to press the department on why more wasn’t being done to find her. Eventually, with the help of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, she was found in a Los Angeles hotel and was returned to DC after Playtime Project volunteers raised money to fly her home.  

When Relisha went missing next, Playtime was even more prepared to spring into action. Relisha had not been reported missing until almost a month after her actual disappearance. Playtime worked side-by-side with the Black and Missing Foundation, the Metropolitan Police Department, and the FBI to search for her. Although Relisha remains missing, we hold out hope that she will be found.  

Unfortunately, it is not unusual for young people experiencing housing insecurity—specifically, Black and brown children—to go missing. Vulnerable children and families are preyed upon, safety nets have holes, and children who run away aren’t always taken seriously by the authorities. The population experiencing housing insecurity in the DC region is also disproportionately Black (about 95% of the population Playtime serves identify as African American and Black), and it is a well-documented and troubling truth that Black children go missing at higher rates than white children. DC General housed about 600 children at its peak and conditions were notoriously poor. There was no playground or other space designated for children until Playtime stepped in. We built a playground and, over a decade, ran play programs in several rooms we renovated for hundreds of children, infants through teens.

Although DC General is now closed, young people continue to go missing from shelters and low-income housing communities. One of our Prince George’s County program sites serves many children who live in the nearby low-income apartment complex. Lately, there has been an alarming rise in missing children from this one neighborhood. Playtime Project will continue to do everything it can to protect the children it serves and to call on the strength of our community and public voice to bring attention to those who do go missing. On this Relisha Rudd Remembrance Day, help us by sharing information about her case and other missing children’s cases, supporting organizations that are helping, and educating yourself and others on the issue.

To report information regarding Relisha Rudd’s disappearance, call the Metro Police Department at 202-727-9099 or text the tip line at 50411. To learn more about children who are missing right now, visit missing.dc.gov for DC and facebook.com/MD.MCMUP for Maryland.

NPR Through the Cracks podcast featuring Relisha Rudd's story: https://www.npr.org/podcasts/959614430/through-the-cracks 

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