WATERVILLE — The mother of missing toddler Ayla Reynolds is expected to file a lawsuit Monday, alleging the father caused the child’s death seven years ago.

The wrongful death suit will be filed in Cumberland County Superior Court in Portland against Justin DiPietro, according to William Childs, the attorney for Ayla’s mother, Trista Reynolds.

Childs plans a press conference outside the courthouse. The announcement of the filing comes on the seven-year anniversary of the child’s reported disappearance, in a case that drew national attention and sparked the largest and most costly police investigation in state history.

“Through discovery, we intend on establishing how Ayla was killed, where she was killed and why she was killed,” Childs said in a phone interview.

Ayla disappeared seven years ago from her paternal grandmother’s house at 29 Violette Ave. in Waterville and has never been found. No charges have ever been filed in the disappearance, although authorities have said DiPietro hasn’t told them all that he knows. DiPietro has maintained that someone must have abducted Ayla during the night, but police say there’s no evidence to support that claim.

The blond-haired, blue-eyed Ayla was in the care of DiPietro, who was staying with his mother, Phoebe DiPietro, at her house at the time. He reported the child missing on the morning of Dec. 17, 2011, exactly seven years ago Monday. Although Phoebe DiPietro was not in the house the night before Ayla was reported missing, her daughter, Elisha DiPietro, and Justin DiPietro’s then-girlfriend Courtney Roberts, were there.

Police say they believe Ayla, who was 20 months old when she disappeared and who now would be 8 years old, met with foul play the third week of December that year.

A judge last year officially declared Ayla to be dead, paving the way for a wrongful death lawsuit.

In the years since Ayla’s disappearance, Justin DiPietro moved away from Maine and stopped talking to the Morning Sentinel. A letter a Sentinel reporter sent to Justin DiPietro’s home in California last year did not draw a response. Facebook messages sent Thursday to Roberts and Elisha DiPietro were not returned. Phoebe DiPietro has no telephone number listed in the Waterville area.

PURSUING JUSTICE

Childs, of the Portland law firm Childs, Rundlett, Fifield & Altshuler LLC, said an official tried recently to serve Justin DiPietro, now 31, with a summons at his last known address in California, but was told by a tenant that DiPietro had moved in July.

The process server official, Nelson Tucker, conducted an extensive search to locate his whereabouts in Los Angeles County and elsewhere, but was unsuccessful.

Childs said he also sent the complaint and summons to the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office to try to serve DiPietro at his mother’s house in Waterville.

Lt. Jeffrey Love, who is in charge of the Maine State Police Unsolved Homicide Unit, said police remain dedicated to solving the case.

“We received 18 leads in 2018 for a total of 1,593 leads to date,” Love said in an email last week. “Two of the leads this year led State Police detectives to search an area in Belgrade and Sidney. A search was also conducted in Winslow, which was initiated by State Police detectives. Though nothing of evidentiary value was located, detectives were able to eliminate three more areas. All three searches utilized State Police cadaver dogs.”

Trista Reynolds says she stays in touch with police in the case.

“If they want to let me know something or if I just want to know what’s going on, I give a call,” she said Tuesday. “I saw them last week just to sit down and go over the last year and where we stand.”

She said they will proceed carefully. “We have to make sure all of our ducks are lined up the right way because we only have one shot at this,” she said.

LIFE WITHOUT AYLA

Trista Reynolds, now 30, hopes people remember Ayla at Christmas.

While she will not be with her mother and brothers, Raymond, now 7, and Anthony, 5, they hold Ayla in their hearts.

“They’re getting so big,” Trista Reynolds said of the boys. “We’re in a new place this year. It’s our first Christmas in an actual house.”

She said she is doing OK, though the last few months have been tough as the one-year anniversary of when a judge declared Ayla dead in September 2017 passed, and Halloween and then Thanksgiving.

“I caught myself crying a lot,” she said. “Everyone says it gets easier. … I just feel like every year, it’s a reminder and it gets harder each year.”

She has lit up her South Portland porch with pink lights to honor Ayla, who loved that color. She hopes people will shine a pink light somewhere, anywhere.

“It’s the seventh anniversary and we’re still in the same place we were seven years ago,” she said Tuesday. “I guess I’d like to see everyone light a pink light for Ayla and wish her a merry Christmas. I’m wishing her a merry Christmas and I love her – I love her dearly. I kind of just want to light the world up pink.”

POLYGRAPH PASSED

Childs, of Portland, took the case pro bono and presented it to the probate court. That court on May 17, 2017, named Trista Reynolds personal representative of Ayla’s estate. Reynolds passed a polygraph test in which she told police the last time she saw Ayla was in November 2011.

Justin DiPietro was watching Ayla the week she disappeared because Trista Reynolds was in rehabilitation and her sister was caring for Ayla. The DiPietros enlisted the state Department of Health and Human Services to help take Ayla and she ultimately was handed to Justin DiPietro.

Reynolds testified in probate court prior to the judge’s declaring Ayla dead last year, but Justin DiPietro, who was working as a cook and living in Winnetka, California, did not. Elisha DiPietro, his half sister, and Roberts, had been deposed earlier by Childs.

Documents from Cumberland County Probate Court say an official in June 2017 served a notice of the September probate hearing to Justin DiPietro at his California home, but he lied about who he was when the officer, Tucker, showed up on his doorstep.

Justin DiPietro, father of Ayla Reynolds, talks to his attorney, Gerard Conley Jr., on Sept. 25, 2013.

Tucker, who recently tried to serve him a complaint and summons of wrongful death, served the probate hearing notice last year in Winnetka. At the time, Tucker had with him a photograph of DiPietro that was given to him by Childs. Tucker wrote in court documents that at 8:51 a.m. June 12, 2017, he went to DiPietro’s home in Los Angeles to serve the papers.

“He denied his identity, but he matched the photo provided by attorney for petitioner,” Tucker wrote.

A FAMILIAR MESSAGE

In a civil case, the penalty is monetary. Proof is by preponderance of the evidence.

Jeff Hanson, Trista Reynolds’ stepfather, writes posts on the website aylareynolds.com. Last week, he emailed a statement from Ayla’s family on the seventh anniversary of her disappearance. It was the same message he issued last year:

“The maternal side of Ayla Reynolds family would like to convey their best wishes to all those that continue to seek justice for Ayla. It is our hope that the tragedy that befell our family seven years ago never touches yours. Be at peace and hold your family close to your heart, be they near or far away this holiday season.”

On Tuesday, the gray DiPietro house on Violette Avenue sat silent, snow blanketing part of the lawn by a large tree that seven years ago was flanked with stuffed animals people had left as a shrine to Ayla. A wreath with a red ribbon hung from the door facing the driveway near a grill cloaked in black.

The quiet, residential street looked much the same Tuesday as it had in 2011.

 


Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: