December 17, 2012

Year later, search for little Maine girl continues

Waters near the Waterville home where Ayla vanished has been a focal point of police searches.

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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

click image to enlarge

Ayla Reynolds was reported missing from her father’s Waterville home a year ago.

Contributed photo

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Dayton Kidd, 2, of Windham attends the Shining Hope for Ayla event at the Riverton Community Center in Portland with Chris Lewis on Saturday. It was the latest of several events in the past year to remind the public that the little girl is still missing.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

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The 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 on Saturday in Portland.

In the first few weeks, family members held out hope that Ayla was still alive and that she might return unharmed. 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.

"Closure to me would mean having Ayla brought back or -- and it breaks my heart to say it -- at least her body back," Reynolds said in an interview last week. Any parent should get to lay their child to rest properly, she said.

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.

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.

The stress of being a young single mother -- she also has a son, Raymond, now 20 months old -- slowly led Reynolds to addiction. That was the life she knew.

"You live the way you were raised," she said.

Even though she knows some people are critical of her, Reynolds said she always put her children first, even when she was messed up. She went into rehab for substance abuse, but needed someone to care for Ayla while she got clean. The toddler went to live with DiPietro in Waterville for awhile, in a home his mother owned.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Trista Reynolds, Ayla’s mother, floats a lantern skyward during the Portland event Saturday. She says Justin DiPietro, Ayla’s father, “could end all of this within seconds if he would just be a father and actually speak for his daughter.”

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

  


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