On the night of December 16, 2011, little Ayla Bell Reynolds was with her father, Justin DiPietro, at his home on Violette Avenue in Waterville, Maine. He lived with his mother, Phoebe, his sister, Elisha, and his sister’s infant daughter. Quite the crowd for the small one story, 3-bedroom home. The night of December 16, 2011, Justin’s mother wasn’t home. His girlfriend Courtney Roberts and her son were staying over.
8 p.m. was bedtime for 20-month old Ayla. According to her father, the blond haired, blue eyed baby was wearing footie pajamas as her father tucked her in that night — a light green zip-up set with white polka dots. The embroidery on the front read, “Daddy’s Princess”.
To this day, 9 years later, what happened between the hours of 8 p.m. on Friday, December 16, 2011 and 8:51 a.m. on Saturday, December 17, 2011, is an apparent mystery with two very different theories of the truth about what happened to Ayla in that tiny, crowded Waterville home.
Ayla’s case is both the largest criminal investigation and the third largest search for a missing child in Maine’s history. If you’ve lived in Maine or New England in the last decade, you probably know the high-level details of the night she went missing from her father’s home, but there is so much to this case. There’s so much that Ayla’s mother Trista Reynolds has fought for. There’s an overwhelming feeling of knowing what happened to Ayla Bell Reynolds, that night in her father’s care. And yet, the search for justice in Ayla’s case continues 9 years later.
Background on Trista & Justin
“I guess you could say we were friends who had a child together,” Trista Reynolds told CentralMaine.com. Ayla Bell Reynolds was born to her mother Trista and her father Justin Pietro on April 4, 2010. They were dating, unofficially maybe, but when Ayla was born, Trista claimed that Justin denied Ayla was his daughter until a paternity test proved he was, in fact, her biological father. Justin wasn’t always present in Ayla’s infant days, but they did share custody.
In late Fall 2011, Trista decided to take action to face a past hurdle that had resurfaced. She voluntarily entered treatment for substance abuse so she could reclaim her life and be the mother she wanted to be for Ayla. Before entering the rehab program, Trista arranged for her sister to take care of Ayla, with the help of Trista’s mother.
Somehow, this plan for Ayla’s aunt and grandmother to watch over her while Trista sought the help she needed was turned on its head when DHS came knocking. Justin and his family had apparently pleaded their case to the Department of Human services. Ayla was supposed to be in his care, they claimed, though there was no formal custody arrangement at the time. Without a home visit, Ayla was removed from her aunt and grandmother’s care, and instead placed in Justin DiPietro’s home that he shared with his mother and sister.
A home visit would’ve been standard procedure, but this crucial step was skipped, Trista and her family claimed. The representative from DHS who placed Ayla in the DiPietro home was a woman named Karen Small — she was related to Justin DiPietro’s mother, Phoebe.
Now, looking back on that detail, and on many details of others in this case, it really brings to mind the phrase, “Hindsight is 20/20.” Maybe if a home visit was conducted it would’ve revealed conditions that might’ve kept Ayla out of that house. Maybe if the DHS representative wasn’t a relative, Ayla would not have been removed from Trista’s sister house, or the placement would’ve been handled differently altogether.
Getting Ayla Back
Word got back to Trista that Ayla was with her father, and she wasn’t happy. This went beyond petty annoyance or frustration that her wishes, as Ayla’s mother, were circumvented. Trista had reasons for keeping Ayla out of the DiPietro house. Trista felt that Ayla wasn’t safe there.
Although the pair had been voluntarily co-parenting Ayla, she started coming home to Trista with unexplained bruises. When Trista asked what happened, Justin pointed to an incident in the ball pit at Chuck E. Cheese… But Trista knew Chuck E. Cheese didn’t have a ball pit.
Then on November 11, 2011, Ayla’s arm was broken while in Justin’s care. Justin claimed she sustained the injury when he was carrying her into the house in his arms and slipped, falling on top of her. He didn’t seek medical treatment for her that night. Ayla’s tiny arm was later placed in a soft cast to heal.
Knowing her daughter was in Justin’s home, Trista checked herself out of the substance abuse treatment program and tried to get Ayla back. But the DiPietro family refused. They played games with her. When she called to speak to Ayla on the phone, Justin and his family made excuses as to why the toddler was unavailable at the moment. Trista remembered the text messages she claimed to receive from Justin, his bold statements, “You’ll never see Ayla again.”
According to ABC News, in an aggressive effort to get her baby back, Trista Reynolds filed for full custody of Ayla on December 15, 2011, without telling Justin at the time.
On Saturday, December 17, 2011, at 8:51 a.m. Justin DiPietro picked up his cell phone and dialed 9-1-1.
More to the Case
This is the Disappearance of Ayla Reynolds. Hit play on this episode wherever you get your podcasts to hear where the investigations stands 9 years later, the blood evidence found at the home where she was last seen, and the shocking life insurance policy that her father purchased just a month before she disappeared.
Episode Source Material
- Mother of Ayla Reynolds still seeking answers… Morning Sentinel, 16 Dec 2020
- Read the 43 responses given by lawyer… Liam Nee, News Center Maine, 17 May 2019
- Missing Maine Toddler… COLLEEN CURRY, LINSEY DAVIS, KEVIN DOLAK and KATTI GRAY, ABC News, 19 Dec 2011
- Father, friends say it’s possible; cops say no way, CentralMaine.com
- Photo timeline of Ayla Reynolds, Craig Smith, WMTW, 16 Dec 2014
- Police seize cars from Violette Avenue home, CentralMaine.com, 20 Dec 2011
- Blood found, suspicion cast in missing Maine toddler case, Susan Candiotti, CNN, 28 Jan 2012
- Blood found at home where Maine tot was last seen, The Jackson Sun, 29 Jan 2012
- Search now a criminal case, The Bangor Daily News, 31 Dec 2011
- Justin DiPietro Exclusive Interview on NBC’s Today Show
- Ayla Reynolds Archives: 911 Transcripts
- The Case for Ayla: Blood Evidence