Mother and grandfather seek justice for Ayla Reynolds’ death

Trista Reynolds’ voice is determined and energetic, peppered with rare moments of raspiness. Upon returning home from her day job in Portland to take care of her two young boys and to answer questions about her missing daughter, she should sound more tired. ‘Tired’, of course, would indicate an impending light at the end of a tunnel, a nearing time for rest. And although Reynolds is closer now than ever to that time of rest, she has resigned herself to the fact that she will never reach that ultimate ‘light’: the safe return of her daughter, Ayla Reynolds. After the largest ever state-wide search in Maine’s history and subsequent six year long investigation, Trista Reynolds has requested that a Cumberland County court release Ayla’s death certificate; this past Wednesday on Sept. 27; they complied. This decision will allow Reynolds to pursue a wrongful death suit against the child’s father, Justin DiPietro, whose involvement with Ayla’s disappearance has been suspected from the disapearance. Without the girl’s body, this is the only course of action Trista Reynolds can take to place DiPietro in a courtroom.

In an interview with The Echo, Trista Reynolds expressed her optimism for the future of the case. “I’m really open to anything that puts Elisha [DiPietro], Justin [DiPietro] and Courtney [Roberts] on the stand, so they can tell people the truth,” Reynolds said, discussing her lack of preference over the nature of the suit (civil or criminal), and referring to the three adults present in the Waterville house the night Ayla went missing: Justin DiPietro, his sister Elisha, and his then-girlfriend Courtney Roberts.

All three adults have maintained claims of innocence and repeatedly referred to abduction as the only possible explanation for 20 month old Ayla’s disappearance on the night of December 16, 2011. But investigators later revealed that they found and equivalent of nearly a cup of the toddler’s blood in Justin DiPietro’s room and around his mother’s Waterville home where Ayla was last seen. It was also discovered that Justin took out a $25,000 life insurance policy under Ayla’s name just days before her disappearance. “I feel like they have all lied since day one, especially Justin. I’m hoping that once they get in the courtroom and see how we won’t back down, I more or less want the truth to come from Justin’s mouth,” Reynolds said.

Trista, who was attending a ten-day rehab program just before her daughter disappeared, knew something was wrong even before she received the devastating news.  In fact, she had filed for sole custody over the child a day earlier. “I personally feel that Ayla had been missing a lot longer than Justin claims she was,” Trista said, “He would never let me talk to her, and even his 911 phone call was very odd. The way the whole thing played out, I just think it was a lie.”

Many have shown their support for Trista Reynolds, including Maine deputy attorney general Lisa Marchese.  In an interview with The Echo, Marchese discussed her feelings about the case, ultimately revealing her belief that Ayla is dead. “It is my hope that the person or persons responsible for Ayla’s disappearance and death will be criminally prosecuted,” Marchese said.

Outside of the public sphere, the Reynolds family has remained united in their pursuit of justice for Ayla, comfort for Trista, and frustration towards the DiPietros. In an exclusive interview with The Echo, Ayla’s step-grandfather Jeff Hanson expressed his determination to seek answers. “We want to know the facts of the night,” Hanson said.

Other members of the family have rallied to Trista’s side as well. Her biological father, Ron Reynolds, and step mother, Frankie Maines, commented on The Echo article in which Hanson’s interview originally appeared, expressing their deep sadness and anger surrounding the loss of their grandchild. “As Ayla’s Papa, and Nana, we believe we will find Ayla, and we will lay her to rest surrounded by those that love her…You [Justin] took something that was very dear to us, and now we will take EVERYTHING from you, and your family that you hold dear!” commented Frankie Maines, “the devil is calling for his due, and we intend to deliver it. The devil is waiting, I would be scared, how about you Justin, Phoebe, Elisha, and Courtney?” Phoebe DiPietro, Justin’s mother, was not present on the night of the disappearance, but owned the house in Waterville where the event took place and has repeatedly defended her son as innocent.

In an exclusive interview with The Echo, Ron Reynolds and Frankie Maines discussed their frustration.  “I knew something had happened because of what Justin had said on the 16,” Reynolds said, “He gets mad, and turns around and all of the sudden says ‘neither you nor your family will say Ayla again’, then on the 17th, I’ve got police at my doorstep.”

Reynolds explained that Phoebe DiPietro told him that Justin had barricaded himself in the bathroom, and would not allow police to question him once Ayla was reported missing. He then described how she later admitted to lying to “protect her own son.”

“Phoebe: forgive me, but you fat little pig, are you kidding me? You lie to protect Justin? Who protected my granddaughter Ayla? Honestly, who protected her? Who protected her well-being?” Reynolds said in a phone interview.

Phoebe DiPietro has made headlines recently, stating that she received multiple death threats. Frankie Maines assured The Echo, however, that neither her nor her husband were a part of them. “We didn’t have anything to do with the threats. We don’t go near Waterville; we stay away. We don’t call them, we don’t send them letters, we don’t have any contact with them,” Maines said, “But it doesn’t surprise me that she’s receiving threats like these; people see this beautiful girl, and the blood her son left, and it angers them.”

Both Reynolds and Maines expressed their anger towards Justin, and his delayed response to the disappearance of his own daughter.

“There was a party [at the Waterville home that weekend] from what I understand, and then you [Justin] don’t come out of hiding until a Monday? Show no emotions, no tears? You should be out there cooperating with law enforcement; instead, you’re coming out with some cockamamie bull crap saying that, ‘well I was told that I shouldn’t interfere with the investigations’. Bullshit. You should have been out there, Justin,” Reynolds said, “You should have been out there, cooperating with law enforcement. You take a life insurance policy on my granddaughter three days before she goes missing, you see me and my family out there begging and pleading to find Ayla.”

Ron Reynolds’ life has not been the same since the morning of Dec. 17, 2011, when he found out Ayla was missing. “My life has been fucked, turned upside down ma’am. This has fucked me up so bad that four years ago, I ended up in Spring Harbor [mental hospital in Portland],” Reynolds said, explaining how a homicidal impulse nearly turned into action. “I almost killed these people. I wanted to blow this fucking house up, I wanted to kill everybody out of that fucking house, and I got stopped by Portland PD. They found me, they stopped me, I fought the officers that I have known for such a long time. I ended up in Spring Harbor for three days, and I get diagnosed with PTSD, Depression, suicidal thoughts, and why? Because of all this bull shit that has gone on.” Reynolds, who was formerly in the Marine Corps and worked as a security guard at Maine Medical center, confronted his former peers in this moment of panic.

Ultimately, Reynolds concluded that he, like the rest of his family, simply wants justice for Ayla, and believes this civil case will bring him as close as ever to that. “Between me and my daughter [Trista], we don’t give a shit about the money. It’s the justice that we want. For Ayla. For my daughter. For my grandchildren.”

Frankie Maines was particularly upset by the response of the Department of Human Service’s (DHS) to Ayla’s displacement from a family friend’s home to the DiPietro household; Trista had originally sent the child to the former while she attended rehab. According to Maines and Reynolds, one DHS employee by the name of Karen Small decided to forgo the normal home visit policy before placing Ayla at the DiPietro residence, a procedure that could have prevented the girl from being there in the first place and an action Small took due to her familial relation with Phoebe DiPietro.

“Ayla fell through the cracks of the system. In the end, I’d love to see something like an Ayla’s law at some point in time that mandates the DHS can’t just step in and take a child before doing home studies,” Maines said, “So many things fell through for Ayla, I would hope that nothing like this happens for another child. If Ayla had to die to make this happen, at least it would honor her life.”

Maines has also made it clear that she would prefer the media cover the positives of Ayla’s life, rather than dwell on the gruesome details of her untimely demise. “I would love it if more people were talking about her relationship to family. Her relationship to her little brother Raymond [now seven]. Her tight bond to her mother; they were so close.” Nevertheless, she feels as though Justin needs to pay for his crimes. “DiPietro [the adults in the house] took something that was very dear to us, and I can guarantee you that this family will go after everything that is dear to them until we get answers.”

Despite their strong feelings regarding the case, Ron Reynolds and Frankie Maines try to stay out of the media’s spotlight, and leave the talking to Trista. “I [Frankie] try to stay in the background because I believe that Trista needs to say what she needs to say to people, and she needs to handle the situation in the way that she feels she should. It’s her domain,” Maines said.

Indeed, Trista confirmed that public attention towards the case has done more good than harm, despite the fact that it forces her to relive her daughter’s disappearance on a near-daily basis. “Every time Ayla’s name is mentioned in any form of media, it really says to Elisha and Courtney and Justin that this isn’t going away; they have to relive it. Basically, by keeping the story in the public eye, we are keeping Ayla alive,” Reynolds said. And what about her own feelings towards the case? “It was really an eye-opener for me. You can try as hard as you can to fight things like this, but ultimately, things can change drastically at any moment,” Reynolds said, adding that, “I hope this can reach other parents, and show them how fast things can happen. No parent ever wants this to happen, so it should tell them to cherish every minute with their children.”


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