WATERVILLE — Dive teams from the Maine Warden Service and the state police will search the Kennebec River in Waterville today, looking for a toddler who has been missing since mid-December.

Today’s search for 21-month-old Ayla Reynolds was initiated by the warden service, said Steve McCausland, spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety.

McCausland said Tuesday night that wardens felt authorities needed to expand the search area for the girl, who was reported missing from her father’s home in Waterville on Dec. 17.

This morning, divers began searching a portion of the Kennebec River from the Carter Memorial Bridge and continue north about a half-mile to near the Ticonic Bridge, which connects the downtowns of Waterville and Winslow. 

McCausland said a press conference will be held at 2:30 p.m. today to update the public on the diving efforts.

On Dec. 21, a stretch of Messalonskee Stream near the home where Ayla lived with her father, Justin DiPietro, was drained so investigators could walk along its banks. The Maine Marine Patrol searched the Kennebec River south of Waterville’s center on the same day.

Investigators also examined Dumpsters, garages, backyards, ball fields and wooded areas near the home.

DiPietro told police that he put his daughter to bed around 8 p.m. on Dec. 16 and discovered her missing the next morning. She was wearing pajamas and had a soft cast on a broken arm.

McCausland said today’s search by the dive teams will start this morning and could last all day. He said game wardens selected the bodies of water based on an analysis of maps of the area.

“A process of elimination” prompted the plan for the search, not new evidence or a tip from the public, he said.

The girl’s disappearance has attracted national media attention. A $30,000 reward for her safe return is being offered. State and local police, as well as the FBI, have been involved in the investigation.

Waterville Police Chief Joseph Massey said Dec. 30 that the case was being treated as a criminal investigation.

“At this point, we believe that foul play has occurred in connection with Ayla’s disappearance,” he said in a written release. “This case has evolved from the search for a missing child to a criminal investigation.”

On Tuesday, Ayla’s mother said on NBC’s “Today” show that she has spoken to DiPietro but still has questions about the disappearance.

Trista Reynolds said she still isn’t getting “the whole truth” about what happened in DiPietro’s home on the night the girl disappeared.

Reynolds had criticized DiPietro for refusing to speak to her after Ayla’s disappearance. She said Tuesday that they have spoken now, but she still wonders why he waited more than two weeks to make a public appearance to appeal for the return of their daughter.

A Texas-based group that assists with missing children cases says DiPietro has asked it for help.

Dawn Davis, a spokeswoman for the Laura Recovery Center, said in a news release that DiPietro asked the nonprofit to help increase awareness of Ayla’s disappearance. The organization has asked its volunteers in the United States and Canada to post and distribute Ayla’s photograph.

Anyone with information about the little girl’s whereabouts should contact Waterville police at 680-4700 or state police in Augusta at 624-7076.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or: [email protected]