WATERVILLE — State investigators think it is highly unlikely that Ayla Reynolds is alive.

Investigators came to the conclusion earlier this week after more than five months of investigation, according to Department of Public Safety Spokesman Steve McCausland who made the announcement during a press conference Thursday.

In a separate announcement, a local attorney said the $30,000 reward for information on Ayla’s whereabouts will be withdrawn at the end of June.

McCausland said there is little hope for a happy ending to the case.

“Based on everything we know, the thousands of hours of investigation, the 1,127 leads that have been received and acted on, we think it is highly unlikely that Ayla Reynolds will be found alive,” McCausland said.

The announcement was a major third increment in the investigation. On Dec. 26, police said they ruled out the possibility that Ayla left her Violette Avenue home on her own. On Jan. 28, McCausland said investigators had found no evidence to support Justin DiPietro’s claim that Ayla was abducted, and added that the three adults who were in the house the night Ayla disappeared — father Justin DiPietro, aunt Elisha DiPietro and Courtney Roberts — aren’t forthcoming with information.

“Our stance has not changed,” McCausland reiterated Thursday. “We feel they know more than they’ve told us.”

Augusta lawyer Steve Bourget, who represents Elisha DiPietro and Ayla’s grandmother Phoebe DiPietro, said his clients heard McCausland’s announcement.

“They were shocked by his statements and re-traumatized,” Bourget said Thursday by phone. “They want the public to know that they have not given up hope. They’re hoping for her safe return, and they continue to investigate and look for leads.”

Heidi Tudela, a friend and supporter of Justin DiPietro, said McCausland’s statements do not change her belief that Ayla was abducted and is alive.

“Ayla is missing — that is a fact — but there’s no proof that she’s been harmed, and there’s no proof that she wasn’t abducted,” Tudela said by phone Thursday. “That has been my stance from the beginning, and there has been nothing to show me any different.”

‘Culmination of everything’

McCausland said investigators reached their conclusion Tuesday, but he wouldn’t elaborate on the reasons.

“It’s a culmination of everything,” he said. “The evidence, the searches and the fact that it has been 166 days.”

Police shared their announcement with Ayla’s parents before the press conference. McCausland said Trista Reynolds, Ayla’s mother, was understanding and thankful for the call.

“Justin was also thankful for the information. His reaction … was no reaction,” he said.

Asked if such a reaction is unusual, McCausland said, “Ask him.”

DiPietro couldn’t be reached for comment.

McCausland wouldn’t answer reporters’ questions about how much of Ayla’s blood was discovered in her home, the items that were recently found in the Kennebec River or any other subjects he considers investigative details. He said no suspects have been named and he wouldn’t rule anyone out.

Earlier in the press conference, local attorney John Nale spoke on behalf of the local businesses and individuals who contributed to the $30,000 Ayla Reynolds Award Fund, which was posted a week after Ayla’s disappearance.

Nale said the reward would expire June 30, and he urged anyone who knows what happened to Ayla to come forward.

“To the person, or persons, responsible for her disappearance, we ask that you now come forward,” Nale said. “Accept responsibility for what you have done. Show us that you are human, and relieve yourselves, Ayla’s family and this community of this burden. For surely, your voluntary acts of admission will far outweigh your continued acts of silence and denial.”

A mother’s reaction

Trista Reynolds, her parents and brother gathered at her home in Portland to watch the press conference on television, and sobbed when McCausland said investigators believe Ayla is dead.

Becca Hanson, Trista’s mother, wrapped her arms around her daughter and tried to console her. Ron Reynolds, Trista’s father, cradled his head in his hand.

After weeping for several seconds, Trista Reynolds yelled, “He knew! He knew! He knew!” in an apparent reference to Justin DiPietro.

Ron Reynolds, his son Ronnie Reynolds Jr. and Trista said DiPietro is responsible for Ayla’s disappearance and they believe he’s not being candid with police.

“He is no father. A father would not allow this to happen to his child,” Trista Reynolds said.

Reynolds said she has felt for some time that her daughter is dead, but it was hard hearing police say so. Now, she grieves because she cannot bury her daughter.

“What hurts the most is I don’t even know where she’s at,” she said. “I’ve got no hope. … I’ll probably never know.”

Ron Reynolds said the family continues to suffer every day that the child is gone.

“We need closure for this family. We need to know where Ayla is,” he said, in a plea for whomever knows something about his granddaughter’s disappearance to come forward. “How much are we supposed to endure? How much are we supposed to take? I want everybody out there to see what this family is enduring.

“Tell me where she is. I will go after her myself,” he said. “I’m her Poppa.”

While McCausland said he talked to Trista Reynolds before the press conference, in an interview with reporters after the news conference, she said she had not heard from police, that she had been in appointments and had not been near a telephone early Thursday.

After watching the news conference, Trista Reynolds broke down crying and then ripped off the microphones television stations had attached to her clothing, leaving the room. Later, she returned and apologized and answered questions about her daughter.

“No matter what it takes, I will get justice for Ayla,” she said. “He will have to live with his guilt for the rest of his life,” she said, referring to DiPietro.

Portland Press Herald staff writer David Hench contributed to this story.


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