Police offer reward for lead in missing Maine toddler case

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 27, 2011 1:43 PM
Police offer reward for lead in missing Maine toddler case

(Reuters) - Authorities in Maine believe a toddler who vanished a week before Christmas was abducted from her home by a still-unidentified person and are offering a $30,000 reward for information leading to the young girl's location.

The reward, put up by private citizens and linked to 20-month-old Ayla Reynolds' disappearance from her father's Waterville home, is the state's largest ever in a missing persons case, Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman Stephen McCausland told Reuters on Tuesday.

Authorities are checking new leads in the case that has come under a national spotlight after a TV segment about it aired on the Fox network's "America's Most Wanted" program over the weekend, Waterville police said.

Officials say the girl was last seen December 16 when her father, Justin DiPietro, who had custody of Ayla, put her to bed in her room.

DiPietro reported Ayla as missing from the house early the next morning, and hundreds of police officers, game wardens and local residents have been searching the area for her since.

Sporadic snowfall in Waterville, located 20 miles north of the capital Augusta, has hampered the large-scale search at times, police said.

Waterville Police Chief Joseph Massey said at a press conference Monday that officials don't believe the girl left home by herself, but police haven't disclosed whether they suspect a stranger, a family friend or a relative took her away.

The statement marked the first time in the 10-day-old case that investigators said someone took her out of the house.

"I don't want to speculate beyond that, because we do not know who took Ayla out of that house and under what circumstances she was removed," Massey said.

Typically, he said, the longer a missing person investigation continues, the more concerned officials become for the safety of the individual, particularly children.

Deputy Chief Charles Rumsey said in a phone interview on Tuesday that police are steadily receiving new leads and investigators and searchers are continuing their work, but he could not say whether officials viewed any leads in the case as promising.

Authorities say they have interviewed numerous family members in Waterville and outside the area. DiPietro said Ayla, who is 2 feet and 9 inches tall and weighs 30 pounds, was wearing polka-dot pajamas with the phrase "Daddy's Princess" on them, and she had a cast on her left arm, broken in a recent fall.

The toddler had been living with her father after her mother, Trista Reynolds, checked herself into a 10-day rehabilitation program, police said.

Following rehab, Reynolds, on the day before Ayla was last seen, had filed papers seeking sole custody of the girl.

"I am very hopeful that the offer of a large monetary reward may serve to spur someone to make the phone call we desperately want to receive -- the call that will lead us to Ayla Reynolds," Massey said.

(Reporting by Zach Howard; Editing by Lauren Keiper and Jerry Norton)