US

Hearing soon on death declaration of toddler who disappeared

A judge will convene a hearing on a woman's request that her toddler daughter be declared dead more than five years after her disappearance set off a frantic search that evolved into the largest criminal investigation in state history.

The daughter, Ayla Reynolds, was 20 months old when she was reported missing in December 2011. A court has signed off on holding a hearing on Sept. 21 to declare her dead.

As part of the legal process, a probate judge signed a document declaring Ayla to be presumed dead to move the process forward and to appoint her mother, Trista Reynolds, as personal representative. But a formal death declaration won't happen without an evidentiary hearing.

The mother's attorney, William Childs, declined to clarify the matter Tuesday, saying he'd hold a news conference in a "couple of weeks" to update the media.

Ayla was staying with her father, Justin DiPietro, in Waterville at the time she disappeared. DiPietro told authorities that he tucked Ayla into bed on Dec. 16, 2011. The next morning, she was gone, he said.

Investigators who found Ayla's blood inside the home, where her mother didn't live, concluded that she was a victim of foul play. Detectives maintain adults in the home know more than they've told investigators, but the case remains unsolved and no charges have been filed.

The death declaration would be the first step to asserting future legal claims and holding accountable those responsible for Ayla's death.

The court documents indicate DiPietro no longer lives with his mother in Waterville and has moved to California. He could not be reached immediately for comment.

Ayla's mother was living in Portland when she disappeared.

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This story has been corrected to say Ayla was not declared dead but a hearing on the declaration was scheduled.