WATERVILLE, Maine – Law enforcement officials said Thursday for the first time that they believe a toddler who disappeared in the days leading up to Christmas is no longer alive.
Officials pressing for more information about Ayla Reynolds' whereabouts also announced at a news conference that a $30,000 reward for information on the case will expire June 30. They appealed for anyone with information leading to Ayla's whereabouts to contact police.
"To the person or persons responsible for her disappearance, we ask that you now come forward, accept responsibility for what you have done, show us that you are human and relieve yourself, Ayla's family and this community of this burden," said John Nale, a lawyer who led the effort to raise the reward money from local residents and businesses.
Ayla was 20 months old when she was reported missing Dec. 17 from her father's home in Waterville. The toddler had last been seen wearing polka dot pajamas with the words "Daddy's Princess" on them. She had a cast on her broken left arm.
Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, said investigators remain determined to solve the mystery of Ayla's disappearance.
"It has been 166 days since she was reported missing from her home in Waterville, and the work and the investigation goes on. There will be more searches, more dives and more interviews. And we are in this for the long haul. This case will never close until Ayla is found," McCausland said.
Before the news conference, detectives called Ayla's parents to deliver the somber news that they no longer believe she'll be found alive. Asked if police believe a crime was committed, McCausland said, "We believe foul play has been involved ... this is a criminal investigation."
In Portland, Ayla's mother, Trista Reynolds, and her father and mother, burst into tears while watching the news conference.
"Everybody broke down. I'm still crying. I'm still hurting now," said Ronald Reynolds, Ayla's grandfather, in Portland. "Why Ayla? She never bothered anybody. She never hurt anybody. Why hurt Ayla?"
"My worst nightmare has really come true," said Trista Reynolds on video captured from her home.
Ayla's father, Justin DiPietro, told police he was thankful for the information, said McCausland, adding, "His reaction was no reaction."
DiPietro has said he thinks Ayla was abducted, but police say there's no evidence of that. No arrests have been made in the case.
State police confirmed that Ayla's blood was found in DiPietro's house and said DiPietro, his girlfriend and his sister who were there the night Ayla disappeared know more than they're telling police.
Police repeated that assertion on Thursday when asked about the father. "We believe he knows more than he's told us," McCausland said.
Neither DiPietro nor a lawyer hired by members of his family returned a call. There was no answer when a reporter knocked on DiPietro's door.
After Ayla was reported missing, dozens of game wardens, FBI agents and local and state police officers participated in the search in this central Maine city of 16,000 residents about 20 miles north of the state capital, Augusta.
Police checked trash bins and FBI agents knocked on doors. Officials even went so far as to drain a stream so wardens could get a better look.
Recently, divers searched the Kennebec River and retrieved some items. Investigators declined to comment on those items Thursday.
Investigators said that they have received more than 1,100 tips and that people shouldn't expect it to be solved overnight, McCausland said. "This isn't 'CSI' where everything is solved in 60 minutes," he said.