Search for 20-month-old Ayla wrapping up; father pleads for child’s return

Posted Dec. 28, 2011, at 4:22 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 27, 2012, at 1:59 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, Maine — After a nearly two-week search for a 20-month-old girl who disappeared from her home, Maine wardens on Wednesday wrapped up work that involved combing woods, fields, private properties and waterways from the ground and air, Waterville police said.

Police Chief Joseph Massey said searches of many of those areas for Ayla Reynolds, especially near Ayla’s home in a residential neighborhood, were repeated “to make sure that no evidence of Ayla’s disappearance would be missed.” The wardens have conducted the searches with help from firefighters and civilian search groups.

Massey said in a statement that wardens also have performed many targeted searches based on tips and direction from investigators. He said authorities have received about 370 tips from the public, many coming after a $30,000 privately funded reward was offered Monday for information leading to Ayla’s safe return.

Massey said the Maine Warden Service will continue to be available if necessary for future searches.

Ayla was reported missing Dec. 17 by her father, Justin DiPietro, who told police he last saw her the previous night when he put her to bed in his Waterville home. He said she was wearing polka dot pajamas with the words “Daddy’s Princess” on them and had a cast on her left arm. The child’s mother, Trista Reynolds, has been living in South Portland, about 75 miles south of Waterville.

Ayla was being cared for by her father after child welfare workers intervened while her mother checked herself into a 10-day rehabilitation program.

Police acknowledged Wednesday that they have been very selective in releasing information about the case, saying they do not want to compromise their investigation. But investigators have concluded that the toddler did not leave her house on her own.

DiPietro on Wednesday released his second public statement through the police, thanking those involved in the search and the Waterville community for citizens’ and businesses’ donations for the reward. DiPietro said he has not granted media interviews because he doesn’t want to hinder the investigation, and added, “I am not hiding.”

“I would never do anything to hurt my child,” DiPietro’s statement says.

“I have to believe that Ayla is with somebody and I just want that person to find the courage to do the right thing and find a way to return her safely. Even if that means dropping her off at a church, or hospital, or some safe place.”

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