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Blood found at site where Maine girl vanished

Troy R. Bennett/ Bangor (Maine) Daily News

Trista Reynolds with her 9-month-old son, Raymond Fortier, talked in Portland, Maine, about her little girl Ayla.

WATERVILLE, Maine - Shortly after a prayer vigil ended for a 21-month-old girl who vanished six weeks ago, State Police confirmed yesterday that blood has been found in the basement of the house where Ayla Reynolds was reported missing by her father.

Police said they do not know the source of the blood. Authorities also said they are frustrated that the three adults in the house when Ayla vanished might not be sharing everything they know, State Police spokesman Steve McCausland said.

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“The three adults who were in that home that night, we feel, have information that they haven’t given us that might lead to Ayla’s location,’’ McCausland said.

The discovery of the blood, which McCausland termed “troubling,’’ was made early in the investigation after Justin DiPietro, Ayla’s father, called police at 8:51 a.m. Dec. 17 to report his daughter missing.

McCausland would not discuss how much blood was discovered or its exact location. He also said he did not know whether police had obtained a sample of DiPietro’s blood.

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Wearing green pajamas that bore the words “Daddy’s Princess,’’ Ayla had been alone in a room on the night she disappeared. DiPietro had been sleeping in the basement with his girlfriend and her young son, according to a timetable posted online by a friend of DiPietro’s and reported by the Morning Sentinel newspaper.

As the massive search for Ayla drags on, McCausland said, “we are growing more concerned.’’

Bob Vear, who helped organize yesterday’s vigil and is a friend of DiPietro’s brother, downplayed the discovery of the blood, which he said the family had brought to his attention three weeks ago.

“It is possibly nothing more than somebody cut themselves shaving in the house,’’ Vear said.

Last week, before yesterday’s disclosure that blood had been found, many area residents were clinging to a belief that Ayla was alive and that someone who knew her - possibly to give the child a fresh start - might be involved in her disappearance from a house that held her father, two other adults, and two more children that night.

Pati Redeagle, who can see Ayla’s bedroom window from her next-door home, said last week she thinks this was no random crime. “Whatever happened, happened on a personal level,’’ Redeagle said.

The public details of the case are as familiar here as the century-old footbridge that spans the nearby Kennebec River: Ayla had been staying with her 24-year-old father at his mother’s house. The child’s mother, 23-year-old Trista Reynolds of Portland, had asked DiPietro to care for Ayla while Reynolds entered a rehabilitation program for her addiction.

Even at 21 months old, Ayla’s stay in Waterville reflected the latest stop in a zigzag course that her two young parents, who had never been in a relationship, tried to navigate as they went about their separate lives. For her mother, that course involved alcohol addiction and drug use.

According to police, DiPietro saw Ayla lying in bed at 10 p.m. on Dec. 16. Almost 11 hours later, as DiPietro and the others awoke, panic arose when Ayla was discovered missing.

The case attracted the national news media, who soon camped outside the modest home, where a mound of stuffed animals and candles lay in the melting snow last week.

A $30,000 reward has been raised; handbills, fliers, videos, and websites have been created; and several prayer vigils have been held.

“This is unique in Maine annals,’’ McCausland said of the investigation. Before Ayla’s disappearance, Maine authorities had never pursued a case in which a child had been taken from her home and been missing this long, he said.

“We’re looking at all scenarios,’’ McCausland said. “Nothing has been ruled in and nothing has been ruled out.’’

When asked, McCausland did not deny that some of those scenarios involve family members.

Reynolds, who lives with her mother and stepfather in Portland, is candid about her struggles and determination to be a sober mother.

“For the first few months, I don’t think I was the best role model, but neither of my children were neglected,’’ Reynolds said as she held Raymond, her infant son. “Even if I was messed up, I still interacted with my children.’’

As she was about to enter a rehabilitation program in October, Reynolds said, she asked DiPietro if he would bring Ayla to his mother’s home.

“I said, ‘Why don’t you just keep her until I get stable?’ ’’ Reynolds recalled. “I thought she was taken care of. I thought she was safe.’’

Redeagle, the neighbor, said that Ayla appeared to be happy, healthy, and well supervised.

“You could hear her singing with her Dad, ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star,’ ’’ Redeagle said. “She never was out alone, never for a second.’’

DiPietro could not be reached for comment, but acquaintances said he is distraught.

“It’s the first thing he thinks about in the morning, and the last thing he thinks about when he goes to bed,’’ according to Andrew Slack, 19, who said he had spoken briefly with DiPietro.

Shortly before Ayla disappeared, Reynolds said she asked a Portland court to declare that the child’s primary residence would be with her, although both parents would continue to share custody.

Reynolds and DiPietro have taken polygraph tests, but the results have not been released by State Police.

Reynolds said her exam ended prematurely because a medical condition, which she declined to disclose, prevented her from finishing. State Police have confirmed only that DiPietro has been tested.

Michael Roy, the Waterville city manager, said he has been heartened by the outpouring of concern for Ayla.

“That’s been a positive thing,’’ Roy said. “It’s certainly made us a lot more aware how precious life can be.’’

Vear, the community organizer and acquaintance of the DiPietros, said he remains hopeful.

“She’s somewhere,’’ said Vear, 53, who wore Ayla’s picture on his T-shirt as he walked along Main Street last week.

“I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing if I didn’t think that,’’ he said. “I wouldn’t be wasting my time.’’

Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at macquarrie@globe.com.
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