Friday, March 7, 2014
WATERVILLE -- At 8:41 a.m. on Dec. 17, 2011, Justin DiPietro dialed 911 and reported that his daughter, 20-month-old Ayla Reynolds, was missing.
Maine State Police Detective Christopher Tupper, left, and Waterville Police Detective Lincoln Ryder, at right, speak with Justin DiPietro after he arrived at his home on Violette Avenue in Waterville on Dec. 18, 2011, as an extensive search was under way at his home and the neighborhood for his 20-month-old daughter, Ayla Reynolds, who has been missing since Dec. 17.
Staff file photo by David Leaming
Searchers in a Maine Warden Service airboat motor on the ice-covered Messalonskee Stream in Waterville on Dec. 19, 2011, in search of missing 20-month-old Ayla Reynolds. The search area was concentrated below the dam near Western Avenue, a short distance from the Violette Avenue home from which she disappeared on Dec. 17, 2011.
Staff file photo by David Leaming
The call set off a chain of events that eventually grew into the largest criminal investigation in Maine's history.
This is the story of the unsolved case's earliest moments from some of the key people involved -- the police chief, Ayla's maternal family, and neighbors -- as well as insight from a law enforcement expert who knows how investigators would have approached the case and its subjects.
Police have maintained near-perfect silence during the ongoing investigation. Steve McCausland, spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety, has shared some information over the last year but mainly deflects questions with now-familiar refrain: "Those are investigative details and we're not getting into them."
Both Waterville police and Maine State Police have denied requests for the transcript from the 911 call that DiPietro made that morning a year ago. The dispatcher who took the call would not comment and the two police officers who were first on the scene -- one of whom is now retired -- won't share what they saw and heard.
Police sent everybody
The dispatch log says two officers responded within the first 10 minutes of the call. Within an hour and a half, two more officers, two detectives and three units from Waterville Fire Department were at 29 Violette Ave., searching for the missing toddler.
Waterville Police Chief Joseph Massey, who was off duty for the weekend, arrived by 10:30 that morning with the deputy chief, Charles Rumsey. Throughout the day, more personnel arrived, including state police, the Maine Warden Service, two more detectives and three more officers from Waterville.
They searched in backyards, houses, woods, Dumpsters, and nearby rivers.
"Certainly we were hoping we would locate her in a very short period of time, but unfortunately, that didn't happen," Massey said.
'I have no words'
At about 9:30 a.m., the doorbell rang at Ronnie Reynolds' Portland home. When he opened the door, he saw a familiar face -- a Portland police officer Reynolds knew through his service in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Reynolds, Ayla's maternal grandfather, invited the officer inside and the conversation quickly turned disconcerting.
"He asked me where my granddaughter was," Reynolds recalled. "I said, 'Well, Ayla is in Waterville with her father.'"
Reynolds knew something wasn't right. His heart started pounding. He lashed out at the officer.
"I said, 'What the (expletive) are you talking about?'"
The officer told Reynolds that Ayla was missing.
"That's when I fell to the ground and cried," he said.
Next, the officer asked Reynolds where Ayla's mother was, and Reynolds told him she was in a car on her way to Machiasport.
At about 10 a.m., Robert Fortier was nearing Ellsworth during a four-hour drive to see his son, Raymond Fortier -- an inmate at the Downeast Correctional Facility in Machiasport -- when his phone rang, he recalled.
Fortier answered the call and Reynolds told him Ayla was missing.
Beside him, Ayla's mother, Trista Reynolds, was asleep in the passenger seat on the long drive to see her then-fiancé. Ronnie Reynolds told Fortier to keep driving to Machiasport until there was more information. By the time they reached Ellsworth, Reynolds called again to say that a detective from Waterville wanted to speak to Trista Reynolds in person.
Fortier pulled into a Dunkin' Donuts parking lot, woke Trista Reynolds up and handed her the phone.
Groggy from sleep, she couldn't understand what her father was saying.
"He was in a panic and crying," she recalled. "I said, 'What's wrong? Talk to me.' But he couldn't get out the words."
(Continued on page 2)