Trista Reynolds stands in downtown Portland on Saturday. Her 20-month-old daughter Ayla was reported missing Dec. 17, 2011, by her father, Justin DiPietro, and has never been found. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald

WATERVILLE — For many years, Trista Reynolds couldn’t bear to imagine the details of what happened to her daughter and where her body was taken after she died.

But now — 12 years after Ayla Bell Reynolds was reported missing from her father’s home on Violette Avenue in Waterville — Reynolds wants to know everything.

She wants to give her daughter a proper burial.

Ayla Reynolds in the photograph that was distributed after she disappeared from a Waterville house in December 2011. She was 20 months old at the time and has been declared legally dead. She would have been 13 years old today. Courtesy photo

“I do want to know where her body is and for the longest time, I didn’t want to know,” Reynolds said in an interview. “I’m ready to know what happened that night. I’m ready to know where her body is. I want to start enjoying my holidays with my kids. I’m ready to move on in life, to just take that next step, see what the future holds for me because right now, I don’t feel it holds anything because my life is on hold.”

On Dec. 17, 2011, eight days before Christmas, Reynolds learned that her 20-month-old blonde-haired, blue-eyed daughter had been reported missing by Ayla’s father, Justin DiPietro.

The case launched the largest and most costly Maine State Police investigation in the state’s history, although Ayla has never been found and no one has been charged criminally in the case.


Reynolds filed a wrongful death civil lawsuit against Ayla’s father, DiPietro, who was living at the Violette Avenue house and said that the last time he saw her was when she went to bed the prior night. That civil case continues and now includes his mother, Phoebe DiPietro who owns the house, and sister, Elisha DiPietro, who was also living there.

A judge in 2017 declared Ayla dead, paving the way for Reynolds to file the wrongful death suit against DiPietro. Last year, a judge approved Reynolds’ request to include Phoebe DiPietro and Elisha DiPietro in that suit. Phoebe DiPietro reportedly was not at the house Dec. 16, 2011, the Friday night before Ayla was reported missing, but Elisha was there, according to court records.

Justin DiPietro, seen in 2013, enters a courtroom with his mother, Phoebe DiPietro, to appear before the judge on an assault charge unrelated to his missing daughter, Ayla Reynolds. Gordon Chibroski/Portland Press Herald file

The three defendants face civil counts of wrongful death, conscious pain and suffering, and wrongful interference with the body of a deceased person. Additionally, Justin DiPietro faces a count of breach of parents’ duty of care to a minor child.

The suit says there is sufficient evidence to allege that his mother and sister, individually or together with him, had the opportunity and means to participate in causing severe injury to Ayla that led to her death and that all three participated in an unsuccessful attempt to clean up and conceal blood stains found in multiple locations before authorities arrived at the house.

Trista Reynolds’ attorney, William H. Childs of Portland, continues working the case, which has faced delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors.

“As more information and analysis has been provided to us,” Childs said in an interview, “we have become more certain that Justin, Elisha and Phoebe know what happened to Ayla, know who cleaned up the evidence and know who removed Ayla’s body from Violette Avenue in Waterville, Maine.”



Childs received documents in 2021 that he was seeking from the state Attorney General’s Office, including evidence and documents from the Maine State Police investigation. He hired a forensic expert to review those materials.

Last year Childs said confidentiality agreements needed to be executed before he was able to turn over the forensic evidence seized by Maine State Police to the defendants, Elisha and Phoebe DiPietro, who are being represented by Laura A. Maher of Monaghan Leahy LLP of Portland, a law firm retained by Phoebe DiPietro’s homeowners insurance carrier. Allison A. Economy, of Rudman Winchell of Bangor, represents the umbrella policy for that insurance carrier.

“That has now been completed,” Childs said of the confidentiality agreements having been executed. “The confidentiality information that we received from the state of Maine regarding forensic evidence has been turned over to Allison Economy, and discovery will continue for her to review and depose and conduct discovery. The new deadline to conduct discovery is April 12, 2024.”

Trista Reynolds and her attorney, William Childs, hold a press conference Dec. 17, 2018, to announce a wrongful death lawsuit that accuses Justin DiPietro of causing the death of Reynolds’ daughter, Ayla, in December 2011. Reynolds is seen holding a photo of DiPietro. Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald file

Economy responded to a request for comment, saying in an email that she is just involved from an insurance coverage standpoint and can not comment on the case or her involvement.

All together, four lawyers are involved in the case, including Michael J. Waxman of Portland, who represents Justin DiPietro. Waxman did not return a phone message this week seeking comment but Maher, who represents Phoebe and Elisha DiPietro for Phoebe’s homeowners insurance carrier, responded via email, saying that she could not say much about the case because it’s part of ongoing litigation.


“However, I will say that my clients, Elisha and Phoebe, continue to vehemently deny the allegations, have very strong legal defenses to the claims, and expect to be vindicated at trial, if not sooner by motion,” Maher said.

Justin DiPietro’s last known address was Winnetka, California, where, in 2019, he was served with papers notifying him of the wrongful death lawsuit. He has always denied he had anything to do with Ayla’s disappearance and has long maintained that someone must have abducted her from the house. A Maine State Police spokesman said at the time of Ayla’s disappearance that DiPietro’s abduction explanation “doesn’t pass the straight-face test,” because authorities found no evidence to support the child had been taken during the night.

Even so, Waxman said last year that there’s not enough evidence to prove claims against Justin DiPietro.

“They have an uphill battle in this case to prove my client caused this child’s death,” Waxman said at the time. “They don’t have solid evidence any particular person did any particular thing to this girl.”

The house at 29 Violette Ave. in Waterville, from where Ayla Reynolds was reported missing in 2011, is seen on Dec. 16, 2020. Morning Sentinel file

Ayla would now be 13 years old and an eighth grader. On April 4, 2024, she would turn 14 and become a freshman in high school in the fall. Her mother said she spent years envisioning what Ayla would look like as each of her birthdays passed, wondering about the things she would be interested in and what she would want for her birthdays, and Christmases.

As the 12-year mark arrives, that has changed, according to Trista Reynolds.


“I’m going to be really honest — I’ve become numb to her anniversaries,” she said. “I don’t do the ‘what ifs’ anymore. I don’t sit there and think about what if she was here. I don’t put myself through that any more. I’ve come to realize she will never celebrate the holidays with me or with the boys. I’m never going to know what she would look like or be like. Ayla is no longer here with me. That was all taken from me, all of it, and I’m never going to get it back.”


Maine State Police say they continue working the case a dozen years later.

The lead investigator, Detective Sgt. Ryan Brockway of the Major Crimes Unit Central, said that in the last year, police have received 13 leads in the case from people in Maine, as well as those from around the country. He has been working the case since 2013.

“When we receive the leads, they are evaluated and then investigated,” Brockway said Tuesday in an email. “This past year we have continued to stay in touch with members of the maternal side of Ayla’s family.”

Brockway said he encourages anyone who feels they may have information that would aid state police in pursuit of justice for Ayla and who have not previously reported that information to call state police at 207-624-7076.


State police have consistently held that those in the house with Justin DiPietro when Ayla disappeared, including a girlfriend of his at the time, know more than they are revealing. Authorities say they’ve found no evidence Ayla was abducted from the home during the night, when temperatures hovered just below freezing and snow covered the ground.

Jeff Hanson, Reynolds’ stepfather, manages a GoFundMe webpage for Ayla and the family is still trying to raise money to help pay for legal costs, including court paperwork and other expenses.

It is anyone’s guess as to when a trial date may be set, as the civil docket is backed up because of the pandemic.

In a criminal case, a jury finds a defendant guilty or not guilty, but in this case, which is civil, jurors would determine whether the defendants are liable or not liable, according to Childs. He does not have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt what caused Ayla’s death.

“Rather, we need to establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, who caused the death, who attempted to destroy the forensic evidence and who removed Ayla’s body from Violette Avenue, Waterville,” he said.

If she were to prevail in the case, Trista Reynolds could receive monetary damages, as well as information leading to Ayla’s remains.


Maher, the lawyer for Phoebe and Elisha DiPietro, said she wouldn’t anticipate a trial would be held until sometime in 2025, though much depends on the docket.

“Generally, any motion for summary judgement must be filed within 30 days after the close of discovery, so we anticipate filing a motion in later winter or early spring, depending on how discovery and mediation go,” Maher said in an email. “Because we intend to file a motion, any trial in this matter will be stayed until after the motion is decided by the court.”


Trista Reynolds, now 36, lives in the Portland area with her two other children, Raymond, 12, and Anthony, 10, as well as with her longtime boyfriend who helps her a lot, she said.

She has worked 10 years for a Five Guys restaurant and now is a general manager for the company. She also works for Dollar General.

“Overall, life is all right,” she said. “My kids are doing great, they’re getting big.”


As time goes on, she longs for a resolution to the case, and justice for Ayla.

“It’s what I’m hoping for,” she said. “Bill (Childs) has been so great and he has been working so hard on her case. He brings me hope. When I see him and we talk, he just lays things out. He gives me hope. Part of me feels we’re getting really close and I hope that we are.”

A picture of Ayla Reynolds sits among a shrine of teddy bears on the steps of the Waterville City Hall during a vigil for missing toddler Ayla Reynolds at Castonguay Square in downtown Waterville in 2011. Morning Sentinel file

Every night of the year, Reynolds and her family shines a pink light on their porch in honor of Ayla, who loved the color pink. During the month of December, they keep the light on 24 hours a day.

They hang Ayla’s first Christmas ornaments on their tree every year. One is a pink bear with three hearts hanging on it, and the other was a baby on a bell that said “Baby’s First Christmas,” but that latter ornament broke last year, according to Reynolds.

“I did buy her a new ornament this year,” she said. “I was just out shopping and looking around and found it. It is a sparkly unicorn, pink and blue, and I just thought of her and bought it. For the first time in 13 years I bought a new ornament. It will go up on the tree.”

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