A routine press call to the Augusta Regional Communications Center on an otherwise uneventful Saturday afternoon in December 2011 was the first indication that something was wrong.

There was nothing going on with Maine State Police, a dispatcher said, but Waterville may have something.

A text message sent to then-Waterville Deputy Police Chief Charles Rumsey asked one question at about 4 p.m. on that Saturday: “Are you working?”

“Yes,” was the reply.

Something was happening.

It was Saturday Dec. 17, 2011 and a toddler had been reported missing that morning by her father.

The toddler later was identified as Ayla Reynolds, a 20-month-old little girl who vanished from her bed sometime late that Friday or early Saturday, and Waterville police said it was possible that she had been abducted. She could also have wandered off on her own, they said, but that was not likely.

What took place in the days that followed was the largest police investigation in state history, triggering a social media frenzy and drawing national media attention to Violette Avenue, a side street in a quiet Waterville neighborhood off Cool Street.

Ayla was wearing a soft cast from a broken arm and was last seen sleeping in her bed at about 10 p.m. that Friday, police said. Her father, 24-year-old Justin DiPietro, reported her missing Saturday at 8:51 a.m. when he found her bed empty.

Police searched the neighborhood for her all day Saturday, using a Maine State Police tracking dog in the search. They did not find her.

“We’re approaching almost 24 hours and no one knows where a 20-month little girl is and was last seen only in pajamas,” Waterville Police Chief Joseph Massey said. “It’s very concerning. We have not been able to locate her with a pretty intensive search of the area.”

She was last seen wearing green, one-piece pajamas with polka dots and the words “Daddy’s Princess” on them. She was 2-feet 9-inches tall, and weighed approximately 30 pounds, police said.

Her left arm was in a sling and soft splint. She had short thin blond hair and blue eyes.

By Sunday morning, Dec. 18, 2011, it was clear that something was not right.

Yellow police tape was strung around the modest home, making it appear to be more of a crime scene than the origin of a missing person search.

The girl’s mother, Trista Reynolds, was living in Portland without a permanent address, Massey said. Both parents had been interviewed and were cooperating with the investigation, he said.

He said several adults were at the home Friday night when Ayla went to bed. At least one of them was not a family member, he said.

Massey said “everything is on the table” and was not ruling out an abduction.

The FBI was called in to assist state and local police and the Maine Warden Service in the search. Police received a total of 500 tips in the days that followed on where Ayla might be — 75 of those were from psychics.

“Again, the goal is to find Ayla,” Massey said. “To do that, I want to make sure that I utilize every possible resource that I can to find the child and get her back safely.”

By Monday and into the week that followed, media trucks, reporters and photographers from all over the Northeast lined Violette Avenue as the search continued. The December afternoons were growing dark early, with long shadows cast by the glaring TV camera lights going live from the scene.

A section of nearby Messalonskee Stream was drained as investigators continued to look for clues.

Investigators examined dumpsters, garages, backyards, ball fields and small wooded areas near the Violette Avenue home.

As the search entered its fourth day on Tuesday, investigators came up empty. Overnight temperatures had dipped into the low teens and single digits and still no little girl. A memorial shrine of stuffed animals, balloons and toys grew by a tree in front of the house.

Neighbors were interviewed.

About 50 civilian volunteers from the Maine Association for Search and Rescue also joined an estimated 80 law enforcement officers, firefighters, game wardens and volunteers in a sweep of Waterville that by then had spread far from the girl’s immediate neighborhood.

“It’s still a missing child case,” Massey said during one of several press conferences held in The Center building downtown. “I’m not going to speculate on whether she’s alive or when she might come home. We need to follow the logical conclusion of a logical sequence of events. We’ve ruled nothing out, so I don’t want to stand here and speculate.”

The media trucks finally pulled out of the area and went home, leaving Violette Avenue as quiet as it was the night Ayla had disappeared.

She has not been found.

In May 2017, Ayla Reynolds was declared legally dead by a probate judge. No one has ever been charged in the case.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.