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
Staff Writer

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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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"(They) have my phone number," he said at the time. "They know where I live."

Police also seized DiPietro's truck and Roberts' car early on and searched both for evidence. They haven't said whether anything was found.

"Justin could end all of this within seconds if he would just be a father and actually speak for his daughter," Reynolds said.

She blames herself but blames him more for what happened to their daughter. His job was to protect Ayla, she said. He failed.

"I hate him so much, but then at the same time I want to, like, see him," she said. "I feel like if I see him, I'm going to see Ayla, because she's him."

Clint Van Zandt is a former FBI criminal profiler and TV personality who has followed the case since the beginning but is not involved in the investigation. He said he believes whatever happened to Ayla took place inside the Waterville home and at least one of the people who was there knows something they haven't told police. "People have a right to remain silent," Van Zandt said last week by telephone. "Until law enforcement officials can provide forensic evidence, they can't force anyone to talk."

Police have hinted at their suspicions about DePietro by saying they think he has held back information, but they have never named him -- or anyone -- a suspect, or even a person of interest.


In the beginning, it was a missing persons case. Then, it was classified as an abduction. Then the "foul play" declaration. Now, it has once again been classified a missing persons case, only the third unsolved missing child investigation in Maine in the last 40 years.

A week after the toddler's disappearance, crime scene tape was spread around the Waterville home. Police downplayed the significance of that act, but on the same day, Maine's top two homicide investigators, Andrew Benson and William Stokes from the Attorney General's Office, were seen at the house.

Stokes said the case has been enormously complicated and that the processing of evidence has been "painstaking."

If any charges are filed, they likely would come from his office. Asked whether the state could legitimately bring charges with no body and no weapon, Stokes said it has happened before.

"It poses complications, certainly," he said. "If we do charge, we only get one shot, so we have to make the best case."

Soon after her disappearance, Waterville lawyer John Nale got a group of local businesspeople together to collectively offer a $30,000 reward for information leading to Ayla. The reward failed to shake any information loose and has now expired.

Police almost certainly know more than they are releasing to the public, said Van Zandt.

"Investigators need to hold back details if for no other reason than to weed out people who are looking for 15 minutes of fame," he said. "You'd be surprised the number of people who want to confess to a crime."

Investigators may be hoping guilt weighs heavily on someone. Van Zandt said that may be why police have said they believe people are not being entirely truthful.

He said water is an obvious choice for disposal of a body. He said it's also possible that police have evidence that keeps drawing them back. But if anyone in the home knows something that they haven't shared, "what a terrible responsibility that is to carry," Van Zandt said.

The details of the case have been debated online for the last year, thanks to numerous websites created since Ayla's disappearance.

Those competing sites, with names like United for Ayla and Just Stop the Lies, have become the breeding ground for conspiracy theories, as well as vitriol aimed at both DiPietro and Reynolds.

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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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