Police follow more than 100 tips in missing toddler case; father speaks

In this Sunday, Dec. 18, 2011 photo, Maine State Police Det. Christopher Tupper, left, and Waterville Det. Lincoln Ryder, right, question Justin DiPietro, second from left, after he arrived at his home in Waterville. Police were searching his home and the surrounding neighborhood for his missing 20- month-old daughter Ayla Reynolds.
David Leaming | AP
In this Sunday, Dec. 18, 2011 photo, Maine State Police Det. Christopher Tupper, left, and Waterville Det. Lincoln Ryder, right, question Justin DiPietro, second from left, after he arrived at his home in Waterville. Police were searching his home and the surrounding neighborhood for his missing 20- month-old daughter Ayla Reynolds.
Posted Dec. 20, 2011, at 4:52 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 27, 2012, at 2:01 p.m.

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This undated photo obtained from a Facebook page shows missing toddler Ayla Reynolds. Police in Maine are appealing to the public for help in locating the 20-month-old girl who was last seen Friday night.
AP photo from Facebook
This undated photo obtained from a Facebook page shows missing toddler Ayla Reynolds. Police in Maine are appealing to the public for help in locating the 20-month-old girl who was last seen Friday night.
Waterville chief of police Joseph Massey, at podium, speaks to members of the media regarding the investigation into the disappearance of 20 month-old Ayla Reynolds at a conference at city hall in Waterville, Maine, Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2011.
Michael C. York | AP
Waterville chief of police Joseph Massey, at podium, speaks to members of the media regarding the investigation into the disappearance of 20 month-old Ayla Reynolds at a conference at city hall in Waterville, Maine, Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2011.
Waterville police were handing out flyers as chief of police Joseph Massey, at podium, speaks to members of the media regarding the investigation into the disappearance of 20 month-old Ayla Reynolds at a conference at city hall  in Waterville, Maine, Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2011.
Michael C. York | AP
Waterville police were handing out flyers as chief of police Joseph Massey, at podium, speaks to members of the media regarding the investigation into the disappearance of 20 month-old Ayla Reynolds at a conference at city hall in Waterville, Maine, Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2011.
A collection of toys and mementos are placed on the lawn in front of the Violette Avenue home in Watervile, Maine, where police and the FBI are investigating  the disappearance of 20 month-old Ayla Reynolds, Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2011.
Michael C. York | AP
A collection of toys and mementos are placed on the lawn in front of the Violette Avenue home in Watervile, Maine, where police and the FBI are investigating the disappearance of 20 month-old Ayla Reynolds, Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2011.
News crews from around New England line Violette Avenue in front of the Waterville, Maine, home where 20 month-old Ayla Reynolds was last seen Dec. 16. National interest in the case remains high Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2011.
Michael C. York | AP
News crews from around New England line Violette Avenue in front of the Waterville, Maine, home where 20 month-old Ayla Reynolds was last seen Dec. 16. National interest in the case remains high Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2011.
A Maine State Police reconstruction team takes samples, Tuesday , Dec 20, 2011, from the edge of the doorway in to the home where, on Dec. 16, 20 month-old Aysha Reynolds was last seen on Violette Avenue in Waterville, Maine.
Michael C. York | AP
A Maine State Police reconstruction team takes samples, Tuesday , Dec 20, 2011, from the edge of the doorway in to the home where, on Dec. 16, 20 month-old Aysha Reynolds was last seen on Violette Avenue in Waterville, Maine.
Maine State Police investigators work with protective clothing while gathering evidence and clues Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011, at the home in Waterville, Maine, where 20-month-old Ayla Reynolds lived and disappeared last Friday.
David Leaming | AP
Maine State Police investigators work with protective clothing while gathering evidence and clues Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011, at the home in Waterville, Maine, where 20-month-old Ayla Reynolds lived and disappeared last Friday.

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WATERVILLE, Maine — The mother of a 20-month-old girl who disappeared from her father’s home said she’s trying to remain optimistic that her daughter is OK as dozens of law enforcement officers in Waterville investigate 100 leads received from the public.

Trista Reynolds said Tuesday she’s trying to keep it together for an 8-month-old son who remains in her care but acknowledges the past few days have been tough.

“Sometimes I think that she’s OK. Sometimes I start thinking that the worst can happen. That’s how I’ve been feeling. I lay my head down at night and wonder where she is. Am I going to see her again? Do I get to see her beautiful smile?” Reynolds said of her daughter, Ayla. “She’s my little girl.”

Meanwhile, in his first public statement, the girl’s father, Justin DiPietro, said he doesn’t know what happened to her.

“I have no idea what happened to Ayla, or who is responsible,” he said. “I will not make accusations or insinuations towards anyone until the police have been able to prove who’s responsible for this.”

The Portland Press Herald reported that DiPietro released the statement through the Waterville Police Department, saying his family and friends will do “everything we can to assist in this investigation and get Ayla back home.”

Searchers on Tuesday resumed looking for the youngster, who was last seen Friday night when the father, Justin DiPietro, put her to bed. He called police to report her missing the following morning when he found her bed empty.

On Tuesday, a state police evidence vehicle remained outside the home that DiPietro shared with his mother in Waterville. State police stationed outside the house told reporters that the DiPietros were not there. Their whereabouts were unknown to the public and The Associated Press could not find phone numbers for them.

Volunteers joined game wardens and local police in canvassing the neighborhood in an effort to ensure a thorough search. Police were checking out trash bins across the city. FBI agents were knocking on doors.

And the Messalonskee Stream, a few blocks from DiPietro home, was lowered so wardens could get a better look, both from the ground and from an airplane overhead, officials said.

“Ayla Reynolds is etched in all our minds and reminds every investigator why it’s important to stay focused and committed to the task at hand: to bring Ayla back home,” said Waterville Police Chief Joseph Massey.

Massey urged people with information to keep calling the police department at 680-4700.

“I’d like to ask the public’s help in continuing to call in any tips or any information they may have. We’ve received over 100, so that’s been very, very helpful,” he said. “We’ll be tracking those down as efficiently as we can.”

He said the FBI’s Child Abduction Rapid Deployment team has been assisting on the case.

“The FBI does have expertise in missing child cases,” said Massey. “[The CARD team] is going back to the same neighborhood that we searched.

They’re actually going to be knocking on every home in that particular area. It’s something the FBI has found successful in other missing child cases across the country, and they recommend highly that we follow through with that and we think it’s a good time to do this.”

Massey said the extent of Tuesday’s search was from Kennedy Memorial Drive to Western Avenue and from Cool Street to 1st Rangeway, which encompasses Violette Avenue, where DiPietro lives.

Police have also been searching Dumpsters, wooded areas and ballparks surrounding Violette Avenue in an attempt to “leave no stone unturned,” he said.

Massey didn’t want to comment on what might have happened to Ayla.

“I’m not going to speculate on whether she’s alive or when she might come home,” he said. “We need to follow the logical sequence of events as we get that information in. We’ve ruled out nothing.”

The girl’s disappearance remained classified as a missing person case on Tuesday, but some family members feared the worst.

“Statistically speaking, she’s not OK. I hope that baby is strong enough not to become a statistic,” said Jessica Reynolds, Trista’s older sister.

The Reynolds family was advised after meeting with Waterville police to return to their homes 75 miles to the south in Portland to let police conduct their investigation. The Reynolds sisters were holed up in a hotel Tuesday to stay away from the media frenzy.

“I’m watching my sister fall to pieces,” Jessica Reynolds said. “I don’t think she has any tears left to cry.”

Trista Reynolds told The Associated Press that she and DiPietro never lived together as a couple and that he showed little interest in his daughter in the 18 months Ayla spent with her mother. But Reynolds said a drinking problem prompted her to enter rehabilitation in Lewiston for 10 days in October; she said that although her mother and older sister cared for Ayla during that time, child welfare agents intervened to place the girl with DiPietro.

Last week, Reynolds filed court papers that she hoped would lead to the return of her daughter. The filing occurred the day before Ayla was last seen in Waterville.

Reynolds said she began to question Ayla’s care after the girl suffered a broken arm. She said she and her family encouraged child welfare agents to check on Ayla, but that they didn’t follow through.

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services had no comment on Reynolds’ assertions Tuesday. Confidentiality laws bar the child welfare agency from even confirming whether it’s working with an individual or family, said spokesman John Martins.

Ayla is blonde and 2 feet 9 inches tall. She last was seen wearing green pajamas with polka dots and the words “Daddy’s Princess” on them. She had a soft cast on her left arm because she broke her arm in a fall three weeks ago, Massey said Monday.

BDN writer Alex Barber and Associated Press writer Glenn Adams contributed to this report.

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