The mother of Ayla Reynolds, the Maine toddler who went missing seven years ago and was declared legally dead last year, has brought a wrongful death lawsuit against the girl’s father and asked for the public’s help finding him.
In a civil suit filed Monday, Trista Reynolds of Scarborough alleges that Justin DiPietro is responsible for the death of their daughter, whose 2011 disappearance enthralled and horrified Mainers and prompted the Maine State Police’s largest criminal investigation ever.
“As we hit Ayla’s anniversary, I wonder if this is haunting you, Justin,” Reynolds said Monday, seven years since the girl was reported missing. “I wonder if our daughter haunts your dreams or if you see her blue eyes when you close your eyes at night. I wonder if you even think about that night — that night you murdered her. “
DiPietro has not been charged with a crime for the death of his daughter, but police have said they found Ayla’s blood in his home and that he’s withholding information in the case.
Reynolds’ lawyer said Monday that he hopes to question DiPietro, whose last known address was in California, under oath but that his whereabouts are unknown and he could not be served with notice of the lawsuit.
“We’re asking your help in finding Justin DiPietro so that we can serve him,” said attorney William Childs.
Over the better part of a decade, official efforts to determine what happened to Ayla and who was responsible have yielded neither answers nor criminal charges. Reynolds said the lawsuit is a way to try to finally learn the truth.
“For the last seven years, I’ve fought to get Ayla closure,” she said outside a Portland courthouse.
The two-count lawsuit seeks monetary damages from DiPietro for causing Ayla’s death through “intentional wrongful actions” and for subjecting the girl to “pre-death pain, fright, terror and physical injuries.” It does not offer a version of what happened to the toddler, and Childs said that he expects that the most they’d ever be able to get out of DiPietro is the full story.
“He doesn’t have any assets,” the lawyer said. “We’re more so looking for the truth.”
Although police have said that the investigation into Ayla’s disappearance is ongoing, a Cumberland County probate judge declared the girl officially deceased last year, opening the door for the civil lawsuit against her father.
On Dec. 17, 2011, DiPietro reported Ayla missing while she was staying with him, his sister and his girlfriend at a home in Waterville. He told investigators his daughter must have wandered away from the house on her own or been abducted in the night, but police later said they had ruled out those stories and that the girl’s disappearance was the result of “foul play.”
Police said the adults in the home were withholding information, and in January 2012 revealed they found Ayla’s blood in the basement of the DiPietro home.
A Maine State Police spokesman said Monday that the investigation into Ayla’s death “remains an open and active case.”
Childs said he’s in communication with the criminal division of the state attorney general’s office and that police have shared some “forensic evidence” with his team, but that the criminal probe is “independent of us.”
Standing in the snow Monday, Reynolds said that she and her sons will mark the eighth Christmas without Ayla the same way they have in years past.
The young mother doesn’t know how many more years she’ll light a candle, release pink balloons and wonder what really happened to her daughter. But she intends to find out.
“I know I will get justice for Ayla and I won’t stop fighting for justice,” she said. “I will live inside a courtroom until I get my justice for her.”
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