BELLEVUE, Wash. – The father of a missing Washington state toddler said Monday that his estranged wife's story about the case — that the boy disappeared from an unlocked car after she walked away for an hour to go get gas — doesn't add up.
"I don't understand why she would leave a little baby in the car," Solomon Metalwala told reporters at his lawyer's office. "The whole story is puzzling."
Julia Biryukova told investigators that her car ran out of gas Sunday morning in Bellevue, and that she left her 2-year-old son, Sky Metalwala, inside while she and her 4-year-old daughter walked to a gas station, police said. She said a friend picked her up at the gas station, and when they got back to the car, the boy was gone.
Court documents revealed that both Biryukova and Metalwala had been cited for reckless endangerment in 2009 after they acknowledged leaving Sky, then 3 months old, in their Cadillac sport-utility vehicle in a Target parking lot on a 27-degree day.
Documents also show that the couple had filed for protective orders against each other, with Biryukova saying her husband beat her and the children, and Metalwala saying she had mental health problems and invented the allegations.
Last December, a social worker determined that there was a "preponderance of evidence" that Metalwala had struck his daughter hard enough to cause bruising, court records show. The social worker also said Sky had troubling bruises, but because the boy could not talk, it wasn't clear where he got them.
The disappearance came during a bitter custody dispute. Metalwala's lawyer, Leslie Clay Terry III, said that a mandatory mediation session last Tuesday produced an agreement that would have allowed his client some visitation rights.
Investigators searched a 20-block area and even went door to door but found no sign of him. The FBI, King County Sheriff's Office and a King County helicopter were enlisted to help.
The Bellevue Police Department said both parents were cooperating, and Biryukova had consented to have her vehicle and home in nearby Redmond searched. Biryukova did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
"We're looking at it from all angles, at this point," said Bellevue Police Maj. Mike Johnson. "Missing person, abduction, foul play has not been ruled out."
In December 2009, officers in Redmond cited Biryukova and her husband, Solomon Metalwala, for reckless endangerment. A shopper who heard the baby crying in the SUV called police, and a responding officer reported that the car felt cold.
Paged inside the store, the couple said they had left the baby in the car for 15 to 20 minutes because they didn't want to wake him up. Surveillance video of the parking lot later proved it had actually been 55 minutes.
The case was dismissed early this year after the pair completed a year of probation, 40 hours of community service and a 10-week parenting class, said Ian Goodhew, a spokesman for the King County Prosecutor's Office.
The couple had been together for 14 years. He was 21 and she was a 15-year-old high school sophomore when they began dating, according to one of her court declarations.
Her mother, Nadia Biryukova, wrote in a court declaration that they married in 2003 in her kitchen just before he was to be deported to Pakistan.
The couple separated in March 2010, court records show. In June 2010, the same month Metalwala filed for divorce, Biryukova, 30, filed for a protection order on behalf of herself and their two children.
She said Metalwala, 36, had a severe anger problem, was verbally abusive and that he had beat her for the first time on Christmas Day, just weeks after the incident at the Target parking lot. The reason was that she had allowed Sky to sleep later than expected, she said.
"He became furious like I have never seen him before, he grabbed me by my hair (in front of our 3½ year old daughter), dragged me into our hallway, threw me down on the floor and then threw me against a decorative column we have in the entrance of our home," Biryukova wrote. "He continued to assault me with his feet — by kicking me and then he took out his car keys and continued to scratch me in any area he could."
The abuse escalated after that, with Solomon telling her to go live on the street and work as a prostitute, she said.
"The most, most recent have been his threats to kill me if I say anything against him or if in any way I proceed with action of seeking custody of our two small children," Biryukova added. "I live in constant fear for my life and my children's life. Please investigate and help me!"
He responded that she had mental health problems and was involuntarily committed to a mental clinic in 2010. But earlier this year a social worker with state Child Protective Services reported that caregivers found her to be in good mental health and an appropriate caregiver for the children.
CPS received six referrals about the family from late 2009 to late 2010, state officials reported in court documents.
Johnson and Le reported from Seattle. Associated Press writer Donna Gordon Blankinship contributed to this report.