WATERVILLE — The uncle of missing child Ayla Reynolds said he didn’t want an altercation Monday.

The uncle, Lance DiPietro, 27, was summoned on a charge he assaulted Justin Linnell, 22, around noon in a Waterville parking lot. DiPietro was in a car driven by his younger brother, Justin DiPietro, when the fight happened.

Lance DiPietro said Linnell had been spreading rumors about the DiPietro family after the disappearance of his brother’s daughter, Ayla.

“I don’t get in fights,” DiPietro said during a phone interview Tuesday. “But, in light of this situation I have to be this person. … I have to protect my family — and I will.”

The incident began while Justin DiPietro was driving on College Avenue toward Fairfield. Lance DiPietro, who was in the passenger seat, said he heard someone shouting at them. DiPietro saw Linnell on the sidewalk across the street, and said Linnell was acting in a threatening manner.

Linnell denied shouting at the DiPietros, but confirmed that he had been openly speculating about Ayla Reynolds’ disappearance in recent days.

Linnell is the father of Ayla’s cousin, Gabriella Linnell. He is not married to Gabriella’s mother, Elisha DiPietro, Justin and Lance DiPietro’s sister. A protection-from-abuse order forbids Linnell from seeing his daughter or her mother, according to court records.

“I just wanted to confront him and maybe have a war of words. It’s pretty unfortunate that things escalated the way they did,” Lance DiPietro said.

A short fight ensued. DiPietro knocked Linnell to the ground and kicked him in the face, according to police. DiPietro then got back into his brother’s car and they continued toward Fairfield.

Justin DiPietro said he was unaware of the fight.

“I didn’t see anything that happened,” he said. “We didn’t discuss what had happened.”

DiPietro said he didn’t learn about the incident until police questioned him at home. He added he was upset with his older brother.

“Obviously, the situation that I’m in, it’s not going to help anything by him going out and doing that,” he said.

Lance DiPietro said he doesn’t know what happened to Ayla and he tries to stay optimistic.

“I want to keep my hopes up and think that she’s somewhere smiling and she’s warm and happy,” he said. “Any other way to think other than that … it’s too hard. I try not to think bad things.”

Ben McCanna — 861-9239

[email protected]

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