Becca Reynolds, left, and her daughter Trista Reynolds stand for a portrait Thursday next to the Christmas tree in Monument Square in Portland. Maine State Police continue to investigate the disappearance 11 years ago of Trista Reynolds’ daughter, Ayla, from a Waterville home. Ben McCanna/Press Herald

The weeks and days leading up to Christmas are difficult for Trista Reynolds, every year.

It was eight days before Christmas, on Dec. 17, 2011, that she got word her 20-month-old daughter, Ayla Bell Reynolds, was reported missing from a house at 29 Violette Ave. in Waterville.

Trista Reynolds holds a pair of Christmas ornaments she received from her mother, Becca Reynolds, 12 years ago before Ayla Reynolds’ first Christmas. Saturday marks the 11th anniversary of Ayla’s disappearance from a Waterville home. Ben McCanna/Press Herald

The case launched the largest and most costly Maine State Police investigation in the state’s history, though the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Ayla has never been found and no one has been charged in the case. Reynolds filed a wrongful death suit against Ayla’s father, Justin DiPietro, who reported her missing, and that case continues and now includes his mother, Phoebe DiPietro, and sister, Elisha DiPietro.

“Ayla would be 12, going on 13,” Reynolds said this week. “I didn’t think it was going to go on 11 years. I’m going to cry because it’s been really hard this week. I’m 11 years in, and I’m about to spend Christmas without her. I’m about to hit another milestone without her.”

A judge earlier this year approved Reynolds’ request to include Phoebe DiPietro and Elisha DiPietro in the wrongful death suit. Phoebe DiPietro, who owns the house from which Ayla disappeared, reportedly was not at the house the night before she was reported missing, but Elisha was there, according to court records.

The three defendants face civil counts of wrongful death, conscious pain and suffering, and wrongful interference with the body of a deceased person. Additionally, Justin DiPietro faces a count of breach of parents’ duty of care to a minor child.


The suit says there is sufficient evidence to allege that his mother and sister, individually or together with Justin DiPietro, had the opportunity and means to participate in causing severe injury to Ayla that led to her death and that all three participated in an unsuccessful attempt to clean up and conceal blood stains found in multiple locations before authorities arrived at the Violette Avenue house.

After delays in the case because of the coronavirus pandemic and other issues, Reynolds’ attorney, William H. Childs of Portland, received documents last year that he was seeking from the state Attorney General’s Office, including evidence and documents from the Maine State Police investigation. He hired a forensic expert to review those materials.

“We are pressing forward with the case,” Childs said this week. “Confidentiality agreements need to be executed before we are able to turn over the forensic evidence seized by state police to the two new defendants, that being Phoebe DiPietro and Elisha DiPietro.”

The Portland law firm Monaghan Leahy is representing Phoebe DiPietro and Elisha DiPietro in the lawsuit. Contacted Thursday for comment, attorney Kenneth Pierce said in an email that another attorney in his office is the lead attorney in the case.

“We were retained in this civil matter on behalf of Elisha and Phoebe by their homeowners insurance carrier,” Pierce wrote. “As you may know, in civil matters like this, the court issued a scheduling order that controls the pace of discovery which is active and ongoing. Beyond that, we really cannot comment on the substance of the case.”



State police have consistently held that those in the house with Justin DiPietro when Ayla disappeared, including a girlfriend of his at the time, know more than they are revealing. Authorities say they’ve found no evidence Ayla was abducted from the home during the night, when temperatures hovered just below freezing and snow covered the ground.

Investigators receive leads about once a month, both from in Maine and out of state, according to Detective Sgt. Ryan Brockway, who has been investigating the case since 2013. Now the lead investigator for the case, Brockway said Thursday that those leads come directly to him and he follows up on every one.

Ayla Reynolds in the photograph that was distributed after she disappeared from a Waterville house in December 2011. She was 20 months old at the time. Courtesy photo

Police also stay in contact with Trista Reynolds and her family and have a relationship where, if they need anything, they call Brockway and they talk. Police, he said, haven taken the case to heart. Asked if he thinks it will be solved, Brockway says he is optimistic.

“I remain very hopeful, especially with all the recent success with a lot of the older cases, both in the state and out of state, across the country,” he said.

With the evolution of technology, Brockway keeps an ear to the ground on new methods and always tries to take evidence in the case and reach out to experts in the field to reexamine the evidence, he said.

State police continue to welcome tips in the case and anyone with information should call 1-800-452-4664 or 207-624-7076, or leave an anonymous tip on the Maine State Police website.


Meanwhile, Childs said Reynolds continue to press forward with the case.

“Trista continues to do well under the circumstances,” he said. “She is very interested in seeing this case brought to court. She will not rest until she knows exactly what happened to Ayla.”

A judge in 2017 declared Ayla dead, paving the way for Reynolds to file the wrongful death lawsuit.

Justin DiPietro, whose last known address was Winnetka, California, has always denied he had anything to do with Ayla’s disappearance and has long maintained that someone must have abducted her from the house.

His attorney, Michael J. Waxman of Portland, did not return a phone call seeking comment, but Waxman said in July that the inclusion of Phoebe DiPietro and Elisha DiPietro in the suit could potentially further delay progress in the case. He said he questioned Reynolds’ forensic expert in a court deposition and “it doesn’t make me feel their case is stronger than it was before I spoke with them.”

“They have an uphill battle in this case to prove my client caused this child’s death,” Waxman said at the time. “They don’t have solid evidence any particular person did any particular thing to this girl.”


While DiPietro lived in California in 2019 when he was served with the papers notifying him of the wrongful death lawsuit, Waxman has previously said he believed DiPietro was living in the Midwest, though he said he didn’t know what state. Asked then how DiPietro was doing, Waxman said he was OK, but struggles with the loss of Ayla.

Trista Reynolds is shown Thursday near the Christmas tree in Monument Square in Portland. Saturday marks the 11th anniversary of the disappearance of Reynolds’ daughter, Ayla, from a Waterville home. The Maine State Police investigation into the girl’s disappearance is the most expensive in state history. Ben McCanna/Press Herald

Jeff Hanson, Reynolds’ stepfather, manages a GoFundMe web page for Ayla, and the family is still trying to raise money to help pay for legal costs, including for the work of the forensic expert, court paperwork and other expenses.


Reynolds, now 35, lives in the Portland area and continues to care for her two other children, Raymond, 11, and Anthony, 9.

“They truly are a handful but they keep me going,” Reynolds said. “They’re still my rock and they make sure that I’m standing on my two feet on my hard days. They keep me smiling. I’m thankful for my two little men.”

Ayla loved the color pink and they honor her memory by shining a pink light on their porch every night of the year, and 24 hours a day through the month of December. Some hardware stores in the Portland area carry pink lights and neighborhoods display them in her memory, especially during the holiday season.

Reynolds and her sons hang Ayla’s first Christmas ornaments on their tree every year. One is a pink bear with three hearts hanging on it and the other is a baby on a bell that says “Baby’s First Christmas.”

Reynolds said she thinks about Ayla every day and imagines what she would look like now.

“I was Christmas shopping the other day and browsing and I was thinking, I wonder what I would buy her this year and what she would want. Every year is harder. I think of her growing, I think of the fact that she’d be in her last year of middle school, about to go into high school. It’s just crazy that we’ve made it to 11 years.”

Justin DiPietro, the father of Ayla Reynolds, in 2013. Portland Press Herald file

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