Search parties scoured a 20-block area, but it was to no avail. Despite hunting high and low, the authorities could find no trace of two-year-old Sky Elijah Metalwala. On November 6, 2011, the toddler was apparently snatched from a parked car in the city of Bellevue, Washington. His mother Julia Biryukova said that she left him unattended while she went to find a gas station on foot. But when she returned to the vehicle, Sky was gone.
So far, police have spent more than $2 million and 14,000 working hours trying to find the missing boy. Furthermore, Bellevue Police Department, Redmond Police Department and the FBI have followed up in excess of 2,500 tips without making a breakthrough. Consequently, investigators are wondering if there may be more to the story than meets the eye.
Indeed, they now believe that Biryukova may not have told them the whole truth. “Her story is inconsistent with the evidence that we do have,” Bellevue police chief Steve Mylett told Q13 News This Morning in November 2016. “Her statements to police at the time that she reported Sky missing were not supported by the evidence and the facts as we know them.”
Sky’s parents had met in 1997. Biryukova was a then 15-year-old Ukrainian who had arrived in the U.S. from Russia three years previously. Meanwhile, Sky’s father Solomon Metalwala was a 21-year-old of Pakistani heritage. The two started dating. In 1999 they moved into a Bellevue condominium. Then, in 2003, at the alleged behest of Metalwala’s parents, they married.
In 2007 the couple had a daughter named Maile. But around that time, the family began to experience financial difficulties. Their restaurant business suffered a double whammy from the recession of 2008 and competition from a neighborhood deli. In 2009, after Sky was born, Biryukova began having psychological problems. And this culminated in her entering a psychiatric unit in 2010, suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder.
While Biryukova was in and out of hospital, the bank took ownership of their condo and Metalwala filed for divorce. The breakup was acrimonious. Biryukova claimed that Metalwala was abusive, while Metalwala claimed that Biryukova was mentally unfit to be a parent. But in September 2010, the court granted Biryukova full custody of their children. And in November 2011, shortly before Sky disappeared, Biryukova rescinded an agreement that gave Metalwala visitation rights.
Sky was unwell on the morning of November 6, 2011, according to Biryukova’s account of his disappearance. She claims that she put both Sky and Maile in her vehicle and drove from her Redmond apartment towards Overlake Medical Center in Bellevue. She then claims that her car ran out of gas on a piece of road near the 2600 block of 112th Street.
Biryukova claims that she pulled up and parked by the roadside, left Sky inside the car and went off in search of gas with Maile in tow. Approximately one hour later, she arrived at a Chevron station. But rather than pick up some gas, she rang a friend who subsequently picked her and Maile up and took them back to the parked car. And when they got there, Sky was gone.
“When you hear the story that mom has told, you have to scratch your head and wonder why – if that’s really what happened – why?” said Mike Johnson from Bellevue police in a subsequent press conference. “This kid was sick is what we know. She was on the way to the hospital with him. Why would you leave a two-year-old in the car? It certainly looks suspicious.”
However, if her story is to be believed, it would not have been the first time that Biryukova had left Sky unattended in her car. In fact, when the boy was just two months old, Sky’s parents left him in a vehicle for almost an hour – in subzero temperatures. Both parents, who were shopping in a department store at the time, were charged with reckless endangerment. But the charges were dropped after they agreed to attend parenting classes.
Nonetheless, there was one major flaw in Biryukova’s story – namely, she didn’t actually run out of gas. In fact, police discovered she had more than two gallons in the tank. Furthermore, the vehicle did not have any mechanical issues. Strangely, Biryukova also did not seem to own a gas can. And according to investigators, no one had seen Sky for about two weeks prior to his reported disappearance.
Biryukova subsequently pleaded the fifth, declined to fully cooperate with police investigators and refused to take a polygraph test. However, she did consent to the police searching her home and vehicle. Perhaps unsurprisingly, several theories about Sky’s disappearance tend to cast her in a dubious light.
Leslie Clay Berry, one of Metalwala’s attorneys, believes that Sky may never even have been in the car that day. “[Biryukova] concocted that hospital story and when she realized that no one believed it, she hired an attorney,” he told Seattle Weekly in 2013. Furthermore, Metalwala himself seemed to suspect his wife of something sinister.
Talking to ABC News in November 2011, Metalwala recalled a disturbing dream that Biryukova had once related to him. “In this dream, she was strangling Sky. And it was very alarming,” he said. “She’s responsible… It’s sad. Because if she can just cooperate, we can find where, where is our son.”
Then, as the investigation wore on, the media exposed what appeared to be Biryukova’s profile on SeekingArrangement, a dating site that aims to connect “sugar daddies” with younger women. Apparently posting under the name JB, Biryukova was looking for a monthly income of $3,000 to $5,000 from a potential partner with “financial stability,” who was a “successful mentor,” and a “REAL man.”
Meanwhile, one uncanny aspect of the case is its remarkable resemblance to an episode of the TV crime drama Law and Order, which aired as a rerun on the night before Sky’s disappearance. Disturbingly, the episode features a mother who murders her young son and invents a smokescreen by claiming he was abducted from a parked car. And according to Metalwala, Law and Order was Biryukova’s favorite show.
Moreover, while police investigators have publicly expressed doubts about Biryukova’s story, they have not formally charged her with any crime. It’s possible they could secure a conviction for child endangerment, but a guilty sentence may conflict with any later prosecution case – for murder or kidnapping, for example – that asserts Sky was never in the vehicle. Prosecuting Biryukova would also oblige the police to reveal all their evidence up to this point. And this could prove beneficial to Biryukova and her attorney.
Following Sky’s disappearance, Biryukova lost custody of her daughter after the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) placed Maile in a foster home. Metalwala visited his daughter twice a week and eventually won full custody during his divorce proceedings. Biryukova and Metalwala’s divorce was finalized in January 2012.
In 2015, four years after Sky’s disappearance, Biryukova found herself embroiled in another legal dispute with the DSHS. Apparently, she had married the previous year and had a third child by a new husband. But the DSHS claimed that Biryukova posed “a danger of substantial damage to the child’s psychological or physical development.”
And on the fourth anniversary of the case, Bellevue police chief Steve Mylett issued a direct plea to Biryukova. “I am convinced you hold the key to finding Sky,” he wrote in a statement. “The employees of the Bellevue Police Department will not stop searching for Sky, but I cannot emphasize enough the role you play in successfully locating your little boy.” The mysterious case remains open.