WATERVILLE — The mother of missing toddler Ayla Reynolds says she’s losing hope that police ever will solve the case, but at least three law enforcement experts from around the country say there are plenty of reasons for optimism.
Police probably are working quietly to build a stronger case, they said.
“A year is really nothing,” said Chuck Drago, a retired police chief from of Oviedo, Fla., and law enforcement consultant. “It’s a long time in terms of fresh evidence and so forth, but I’d assume police are nowhere near considering this a dead case, or giving up on it, or feeling like it won’t be solved.”
Nearly one year after Ayla Reynolds was reported missing, there are still no answers in the case. Friday afternoon, police from Waterville and the state will recap the ongoing investigation during an afternoon news conference, but Department of Public Safety spokesman Steve McCausland said earlier this week there will be no new announcements.
On Dec. 17, Ayla was reported missing from her Violette Avenue home by her father, Justin DiPietro. During the weeks that followed, police announced that they had ruled out any possibility that Ayla left the house on her own or that she was abducted. In January, police announced that Ayla’s blood had been discovered in the basement of her home and the three adults who saw her last — DiPietro, aunt Elisha DiPietro and Courtney Roberts — were withholding information. In late May, police announced that Ayla probably was dead. The most recent news came in October, when McCausland announced that police had conducted a brief search along the banks of Messalonskee Stream, which had been drained for maintenance by a utility company.
Since then, there have been no updates, and Ayla’s mother Trista Reynolds said the silence from police has become disquieting. Reynolds said she used to receive regular updates from state police detectives, but hasn’t heard anything lately.
“They don’t call me,” she said. “The only time I hear from them is if I call them and leave them a message. The detective that I work with will call me, but they don’t freely call me like they used to.”
Reynolds, who has appeared on national and regional television and has helped organize several vigils and events to raise awareness about her daughter, is one of the most visible and recognizable faces in the ongoing saga. For that reason, people often approach her to share tips and rumors about Ayla’s disappearance. When she forwards information to police, she’s not sure whether those tips are investigated.
“I feel like state police are slowly giving up,” she said.
Drago thinks it’s unlikely police will give up anytime soon. A high-profile case such as this will be as “prominent for police as it was on Day 1,” he said.
Drago, who provides professional consulting for police agencies and serves as an expert witness for both plaintiffs’ and defense attorneys, said cases go cold when investigators run out of leads to follow, when they’ve spoken with everybody who is connected with the case, when they’ve exhausted every question.
“And even then, you continue to leave it open,” Drago said. “You keep it active in terms of fliers being posted, keeping it on the police website, keeping the media involved as much as you can so the media keeps it alive; because you just don’t know where your next lead is going to come from.”
Mike Nault, a retired detective commander from Seattle, Wash., and an expert witness, said the case could be further along than the public knows. Even though no one has been named as a suspect and no arrests have been made, investigators might have enough information to do both. Police might be withholding suspects’ names from the public to protect the integrity of the case, and they might not arrest someone until the case is strong enough to prosecute successfully. The burden of proof to justify an arrest is much lower than is needed to prove guilt in court, he said.
Ron Martinelli, a retired police officer from San Jose, Calif., agrees.
“What’s probably going on right now is they’re trying to grab every forensic thread that they possibly can, and there are still some pieces missing,” he said.
In cases like this, investigators meet with prosecutors every time a new piece of evidence is found.
“They’re going back and forth to the district attorney’s office or state prosecutors. They’re saying, ‘What do we need to move this forward?’ Ultimately, the prosecutor doesn’t want to have egg on his face. He wants to do justice for the victim, but he doesn’t want to have an extremely embarrassing case.”
Drago said there could be cause for pessimism in the case if it remains unsolved in another year or two.
“It’s hard to give it a date, but the longer it goes, the grimmer it looks in terms of finding someone responsible,” he said. “But we all know that cases do get solved years later.
“People’s situations change in a year, two years or three years. People who didn’t want to talk before might suddenly be anxious to talk.”
One year later, Reynolds isn’t so sure.
“There are still no answers. There’s no news. There’s still nothing positive,” she said. “I pray every day that the phone is going to ring and we’re going to get those answers. State police are the ones with the answers, and I feel like they’re going to make this be a mystery.”
Ben McCanna — 861-9239