WATERVILLE, Maine (Isabelle Zehnder reporting) – The father of missing Waterville toddler Ayla Reynolds said in a handwritten statement Wednesday that he’s not hiding, he has no idea what happened to Ayla, he believes someone has his daughter, and pleaded for them to return her unharmed.
Police said during a press conference last week that they are confident someone removed Ayla from her father’s home and that she did not simply walk away on her own. Ayla is 20 months old, about 2’ 9” tall, and weighs about 30 pounds.
Ayla’s father, Jason DiPietro, 24, said in his handwritten statement released Wednesday afternoon by the Waterville Police Department:
“It is important that the public hear it from me personally that I have no idea what happened to Ayla and that I am not hiding.”
DiPietro said he has not agreed to media interviews because he doesn’t want to hinder the investigation.
“I have to believe that Ayla is with somebody,” he added, “and I just want that person to find the courage to do the right thing and find a way to return her safely. Even if that means dropping her off at a church or a hospital or some safe place.”
Ayla went missing from DiPietro’s home located at 29 Violette Avenue. He said the last time he saw his daughter was the evening of Dec. 16. He reported her missing 10 to 12 hours later when he allegedly found she was missing from her bed.
She was reportedly wearing green polka-dot pajamas and had a soft cast on her left arm.
The search for Ayla began Dec. 17, the day she was reported missing. The massive search for the little girl has included ground, air, and water searches with game wardens, state police, firefighters, community volunteers, the FBI, and members of the Maine Association of Search and Rescue, The Portland Press Herald reports.
On Wednesday, DiPietro thanked everyone who has helped search for his little girl, including investigators and community members who have offered a $30,000 reward for her return.
Waterville Police have said repeatedly that DiPietro and Ayla’s mother, Trista Reynolds, 23, have been cooperating with police. Her mother is living in the Portland area and has stayed away from Waterville also in an effort to not hinder the investigation.
During an HLN Nancy Grace episode Wednesday evening, experts said they believe that though police continue to call Ayla’s case a “missing person’s” case, they believe that the search efforts for Ayla point a homicide case.
Child’s injuries before she went missing
Questions have been raised in the national media about bruises on Ayla and how she broke her arm.
Trista, Ayla’s mother, told HLN’s Nancy Grace last week that DiPietro waited almost 24 hours before he took Ayla to the emergency after she broke her arm several weeks ago, and that her daughter would return with bruises after visits with her father.
DiPietro said, “The questions of Ayla’s arm or bruises or anything else being said are simply ludicrous.”
However, when a child goes missing prior injuries are of concern and should be thoroughly investigated.
Trista said that on Dec. 15, the day before Ayla went missing, she filed a complaint seeking sole custody of Ayla. The toddler was allegedly in her father’s care while her mother was in rehab for a drinking problem.
She told HLN’s Nancy Grace she didn’t tell DiPietro she was going to court because he was “vindictive” and “verbally abusive.” Trista said DiPietro had threatened to file custody papers against her the week prior so she decided to file against him.
Trista said she had raised Ayla for 18 months and DiPietro only became involved after “I needed to go and get a little help for myself.”
In a written statement last week DiPietro wrote:
“I will not make accusations or insinuations towards anyone until the police have been able to prove who is responsible for this.
“I would never want anyone to spend even a minute in my shoes,” he said. “No one should ever have to experience this. It has affected me in more ways than anyone can imagine. Please don’t give up or lose hope, because that is easy to do. Please be grateful for what you have. I know what I don’t have.”
Search for Ayla intensifies
As of Wednesday afternoon, police said they’d received 370 tips with some coming from as far as California.
Police said they received about 100 new tips after announcing the $30,000 reward and after the airing of America’s Most Wanted last week. Police said this is the largest reward ever offered in a missing person’s case in Maine.
Investigators and searchers say there have been no major breaks in the case.
Waterville Police Chief Joe Massey said Monday that search teams have worked more than 5,000 hours trying to find her. The house on Violette Avenue remains taped off with crime scene tape.
America’s Most Wanted
Ayla’s story will air for the second week in a row on America’s Most Wanted Friday, Dec. 30, 9 p.m. on the Lifetime Channel.
About Ayla’s disappearance:
Ayla Bell Reynolds was born April 4, 2010, and has been missing since Dec. 16, 2011, from Waterville, Maine. She is 20 months old and was last seen wearing a green one-piece pajama with polka-dots and the words “Daddy’s Princess” written on them.
She is 2’9” tall and weighs approximately 30 pounds. Ayla’s left arm is in a sling and soft splint. She has short, thin blonde hair and blue eyes.
Anyone with information about her disappearance or whereabouts is asked to call Waterville Police at 207-680-4700.
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