December 16, 2012

Ayla: One year later, intense scrutiny on family, plenty of theories, and still no sign of missing girl

By Eric Russell
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE -- They keep returning to the water, searching for signs.

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Ayla Reynolds

Contributed photo

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Trista Reynolds

Staff file photo by Michael G. Seamans

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Messalonskee Stream, which feeds into the swift-moving Kennebec River, is within walking distance of 29 Violette Ave., the home where 20-month-old Ayla Reynolds was last seen, one year ago.

The water has never been linked directly to the girl's unexplained disappearance, but investigators keep going back there.

They were there in January a few weeks after she vanished, when the water was ice cold. They were there in April, when they reportedly found items connected to Ayla, although they wouldn't say what those were.

Detectives returned in July, when the water was warm enough to allow divers to explore the depths and again in October, when the waters had been lowered for dam maintenance.

Still, the largest missing persons case in state history remains unsolved, despite intense interest and a slew of competing conspiracy theories. Police seem to be no closer to finding Ayla than they were a year ago.

The toddler's parents have endured the most scrutiny, some of it fueled by each against the other. He still blames her. She still suspects him.

Justin DiPietro has mostly disappeared from the public spotlight. Trista Reynolds has been more visible. She said recently that she's frustrated with the lack of movement in the case. If police believe the water holds clues to her daughter's disappearance, they aren't sharing that with Reynolds.

"We cannot let ourselves become frustrated," Waterville Police Chief Joseph Massey said at a press conference Friday. "We need to turn frustration into determination and commitment to moving this case forward, and that's what we're going to do."

Police used the anniversary of the girl's disappearance to provide an update on the case and answer questions from reporters. No new details were offered, other than the fact that they have reopened their lines of communication with DiPietro and his family.

As the case has dragged on, separating truth from speculation has become difficult. Numerous websites devoted to the case offer divergent stories.

Supporters have organized several vigils to remind the public Ayla is still missing, the latest tonight in Waterville.

In May, after police said out loud what most already feared -- that the girl was almost certainly dead -- the focus started to shift toward finding her body.

The night Ayla disappeared

Reynolds and DiPietro were never really a couple.

"I guess you could say we were friends who had a child together," she said.

It didn't take long for the relationship between them to go bad.

When Reynolds gave birth to Ayla on April 4, 2010, DiPietro was not in the delivery room. In fact, he denied that she was his daughter until months later, after a paternity test. He saw Ayla only a handful of times before October 2011.

When Reynolds went into rehab for substance abuse, she needed someone to care for Ayla while she got clean. The toddler went to live with DiPietro in his mother's home on Violette Avenue.

Reynolds said when she got out, DiPietro refused to give Ayla back. Then, she said, he sent her text messages indicating that he was worried someone might take Ayla.

She said she talked to her daughter on the phone on Dec. 8. When she tried calling after that, DiPietro made excuses for why Ayla couldn't come to the phone.

Reynolds filed for sole custody of Ayla on Dec. 15, 2011, in Cumberland County District Court, saying she was concerned about her daughter's wellbeing.

DiPietro reported the girl missing on the morning of Dec. 17.

He told police he put her to bed about 8 p.m. on Dec. 16. When he checked on her in the morning, more than 12 hours later, she was gone.

(Continued on page 2)

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Justin DiPietro

Staff file photo by David Leaming


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