It’s just before Christmas in the small city of Waterville, Maine, and little Ayla Reynolds is staying with her dad. As he tells the story, he puts his little girl to bed wearing green spotted pajamas emblazoned with the words “Daddy’s Princess.” The next morning, though, Ayla has disappeared. Her family are distraught – but is there more to the story than meets the eye?
Ayla was born in Waterville on April 4, 2010, to Trista Reynolds and Justin DiPietro. The pregnancy apparently caught them both by surprise, and Trista claimed that Justin originally wanted her to give the child up for adoption; however, she refused.
Although she struggled with drug addiction, Trista tried to be a good mother to her daughter. And so, when Ayla turned one year old, Trista checked herself into a rehabilitation center, and her sister Jessica agreed to look after Ayla.
By this time, Trista’s relationship with Justin had broken down. And though the pair were no longer on speaking terms, Justin seemed determined to gain custody of his daughter. In fact, on October 17, 2011, he arrived at Jessica’s home ready to take Ayla away.
Justin had apparently persuaded an officer from the Department of Health and Human Services to authorize his custody of the child. Arriving with a police officer in tow, then, he removed Ayla from her aunt’s care and took her to his Waterville home.
Concerned, Trista left her rehab program to find out what had happened, and soon she was battling to regain custody of her daughter. The worried mom even alleged that Justin was reluctant to let her see Ayla at all. One night, Trista called to speak to the toddler – only to be told that she was watching a movie and couldn’t come to the phone.
Tragically, what Trista didn’t know then was that it might have been her last opportunity to speak to her daughter. On the morning of December 17, Justin telephoned 911 with an unthinkable emergency: Ayla, then 20 months old, had disappeared.
At the time, Trista was on her way to Machiasport, Maine, to visit her fiancé, Raymond Fortier. Fortier was an inmate in the town’s Downeast Correctional Facility, and his father, Robert, was taking Trista on the long drive to visit his son. It was during this trip that Trista received the heartbreaking news.
When they got word of Ayla’s disappearance, Trista and Robert turned around and drove straight to Waterville, where they were met by a team of police officers. Slowly, the details of the previous night began to emerge. When Ayla had disappeared, Justin and his girlfriend, Courtney Roberts, had apparently been in the house along with Justin’s sister, Elisha.
According to police, Justin had put his daughter to bed at around 8:00 p.m. on the night of December 16, but when he entered the room the following morning, he discovered that she was gone. Justin therefore alerted the authorities, and a search operation was soon underway.
But after combing every part of the city, investigators were no closer to establishing what had happened to Ayla. Meanwhile, they began interviewing Justin, Courtney and Elisha about the events of the night. All three claimed that a stranger had abducted the toddler from her bed.
Convinced that foul play had been involved, the authorities began to focus their investigation. Then, toward the end of December, a number of local businesses clubbed together to offer a $30,000 reward for tips that might result in Ayla’s return. Still no information was forthcoming, though.
Then, one month later, events would take an even more sinister turn. In January, police announced that they had found blood in Justin’s home – and that on testing it, they had discovered that it belonged to Ayla. Frighteningly, they also admitted that the amount of blood was inconsistent with a minor injury.
Police soon began to suspect that Justin and his family might know more about Ayla’s disappearance than they were letting on. As the months ticked by, however, they were no closer to finding out what had happened to the little girl. Nevertheless, some worrying details about Ayla’s home life were beginning to emerge.
According to Trista, Ayla had been known to come home from Justin’s house sporting unexplained bruises. Then, one month before she went missing, the little girl had broken her arm. In a conversation with DHHS, Jessica told a caseworker that the doctor had questioned Justin’s account of the accident.
Additionally, Jessica claimed that Ayla had been afraid of her father and that she had attempted to hide when he arrived to take her away. Trista’s family also began to express doubts about the actions of Karen Small, the DHHS officer who had allowed Justin to remove Ayla from Jessica’s care.
Despite great public interest in the case, new developments were few and far between. Then, in May 2012, a spokesman from the Maine Department of Public Safety delivered some terrible news. At a press conference he announced that it was “highly unlikely Ayla Reynolds will be found alive.”
In a May 2012 interview with Crime Watch Daily, Trista revealed some heartbreaking details of the scene in Justin’s home. “[Blood] was found on her slippers, a baby doll, in her car seat, but I feel like the downstairs is where it all ended for Ayla because of what they found,” she revealed.
The police apparently told Trista that they believed Ayla had been wrapped in a blanket and then stuffed inside a bag. Elisha, meanwhile, argued that her niece had suffered from health problems that explained the bleeding. “She had been vomiting quite a lot,” she said. “She had lactose issues. So she had been sick.”
We may never know the truth for sure. Although Justin and his family continue to deny any wrongdoing, the Reynolds are convinced that they are holding something back. Currently, the investigation is ongoing, while Trista is seeking to have her daughter legally declared dead – hoping that the move will help bring those responsible to justice after all these years.