Through The Cracks: A sad and preventable loss

WAMU 88.5

At the time of writing in the Bay Area, California there is a live Amber Alert to notify local residents of a missing child. A 2 year-old boy has been taken by an unknown woman and may be in danger. The media has erupted, the community is fraught with panic and the search has commenced in earnest.

This is a typical response, perhaps, rooted in the human capacity for empathy. We care reciprocally, and when we comb neighborhoods for little boys and girls we do so because we understand their helplessness, as well as the terror of the parents.

Against a backdrop of this impassioned child hunt it is all the more difficult to fathom that it took 18 days for anyone to realize 8 year-old Relisha Rudd was missing. 18 days.

That’s nearly three weeks until anyone noticed that tiny Relisha had been taken from her family’s temporary home at a hospital-turned-homeless shelter, located between a corrections facility and a methadone clinic in Washington D.C. She was one of 600 children there at the time.

This travesty is at the center of WAMU’s Through The Cracks. An investigative reexamination of the case, as well as the circumstances and system that allowed this sunny little girl to vanish. A disappearance authorities subsequently deemed “not preventable.”

It is a sorry tale of poverty and neglect, and reporter Jonquilyn Hill does an expert job of sympathetically contextualizing Relisha’s story — leading us to the saddening evidence without telling us what to think.

Alongside expert sources, Hill tutors us in the unseen challenges of homelessness. The impossibility of having a normal homelife in sheltered accommodation. The distinct lack of communication and awareness when it comes to families in dire need.

She reveals to listeners the precise cracks little Relisha fell through, straight into the hands of Kahlil Tatum, her presumed murderer (and a convicted felon).

Hill is a fair witness throughout. She tries to understand the plight of Relisha’s parents and extended family. To understand how each chaotic event led to the next, eventually culminating in Relisha’s fate. Similarly, despite the sort of even-handed brutalizing the District takes from Hill’s critique, she uses the final episode to note subsequent changes. It is a graceful and hopeful ending.

Ultimately, Through The Cracks is a beautiful elegy to Relisha. A promise that the misdeeds that (we can only assume) befell her did not happen in vain. She is present in every episode, reminding us that not all kids get the best start, but all of them deserve the utmost protection that we, as a society, can afford them.

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