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Memories of Relisha Rudd 10 Years After Her Abduction

Image of little girl with her artwork as background

March 2024 marks 10 years since Relisha Rudd was abducted from the DC General Shelter. Playtime staff and volunteers got to know Relisha during Playtime programs for more than a year while her family was living at DC General. Despite the best efforts of the authorities, Black and Missing Foundation, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Playtime and many others, Relisha has not been found. She will always be in our hearts and we will continue doing everything we can to keep her in people's minds. You can read more in this in-depth piece and column from The Washington Post, both of which Playtime contributed to.

Current and former Playtime volunteers reflected on Relisha and how her abduction affected them and so many others in our community.

“Relisha had a bright smile and beautiful energy. I remember the last time I saw her she was getting a new pair of pajamas from Playtime and was so excited. My husband and I (who volunteered with me) were heartbroken when we heard of her disappearance, and furious at what felt like a broken system letting her down. She slipped through the cracks, and never should have. I remember handing out flyers with her picture to local businesses and sharing her story on social media over and over. Nothing felt like enough. If she's still out there, we want her to know that she is so loved, and that many of us still look for her face in a crowd.” 

Megan Thompson, former Playtime volunteer

“I didn’t know Relisha but her disappearance broke my heart. She’s the same age as my own daughter, who we adopted out of foster care. Relisha’s tragic disappearance inspired me to do more for our children in DC experiencing homelessness and was exactly what led to me volunteering as a Play Ranger at DC General. Knowing that I could do nothing to spare Relisha from such tragedy, I hoped that every interaction I had with other Playtime children would bring just a little comfort and fun to them. May her memory continue to inspire others.”  

Judi LaValle, former Playtime volunteer

“I hold onto memories of Relisha. There's a black and white photo of her on a painted background. I remember the night she painted that. She enjoyed painting and had fun mixing the colors. To this day, her artwork is still my Facebook cover image. On one night, Relisha kept writing part of a Dr. Seuss quote: "The more you read, the more you will know." She taped it to a wall and handed it out to a few children. She was so happy. She really liked that quote. I panicked when I saw her picture on the news and immediately texted our site manager, Danielle. My friends and I were so heartbroken, but we had to keep going for the other children at Playtime.” 

Pam Frasier, Playtime volunteer

“Relisha is another example of the invisibility of children of color who experience homelessness in the nation’s capital. Ten years ago, I was reading Petula’s Dvorak’s column about the shelter’s living conditions and was outraged. The story behind Relisha’s disappearance made my heart ache. All the systems that should have protected her failed her. I decided, as an educator who prepares future graduate students to be mental health/school counselors, I needed to act. Relisha's story began our trajectory [at Trinity Washington University] to focus on children and families experiencing homelessness and early Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) research. We revised and modified our courses to be trauma-informed and trauma-responsive and began a partnership with Playtime Project. Relisha’s story became a transformative experience for me personally and professionally.” 

Dr. Cynthia Greer, Playtime board member and former volunteer