The mother of a toddler who disappeared from her father's home days before Christmas pleaded for people to continue praying and keeping an eye out for her as the community joined Wednesday evening in celebrating her second birthday.
A crowd of about 100 people joined the family of Ayla Reynolds in singing "Happy Birthday" during the vigil in Monument Square in Portland, the state's largest city. Her mom cut the birthday cake.
"I want her to know that even though she's not here, she's still in my heart," said her mom, Trista Reynolds. "This is for her. This is her birthday. This is about her."
The event featured music including Maroon 5's "Moves Like Jagger," to which Ayla liked to dance. People presented flowers and keepsakes with Ayla's name of them to Reynolds, who lives in Portland. T-shirts and buttons with Ayla's face were aimed at raising awareness.
Ayla's father, Justin DiPietro, told police he last saw her the night of Dec. 16, when he put her to bed at his home in Waterville, 75 miles northeast of Portland. Ayla was wearing green pajamas with polka dots and the words "Daddy's Princess" on them and had a soft cast on her broken left arm. Police declared that her disappearance was a crime, but searches have failed to locate her, and there have been no arrests.
Ayla's maternal grandfather, Ronald Reynolds, said that after more than three months the family continues to cling to the hope that there will be a happy ending.
"She's out there somewhere. I know she is," he said. "It's a matter of time. It's a matter of time law enforcement will find her and bring her home, where she belongs."
Trista Reynolds, who also has a 1-year-old son, said it meant a lot to see the community come out on behalf of Ayla. She broke down while talking about her daughter.
"If she sees me on the TV, I want her to know that mommy says happy birthday and that mommy loves her a lot," she said through tears.