Ben McCanna has dedicated himself to reporting on the disappearance of Ayla Reynolds, at this time last year, and here he obtained quotes, useful for analysis. The quotes are italicized with statement analysis in bold type.
At 8:41 a.m. on Dec. 17, 2011, Justin DiPietro dialed 911 and reported that his daughter, 20-month-old Ayla Reynolds, was missing.
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Maine State Police Detective Christopher Tupper, left, and Waterville Police Detective Lincoln Ryder, at right, speak with Justin DiPietro after he arrived at his home on Violette Avenue in Waterville on Dec. 18, 2011, as an extensive search was under way at his home and the neighborhood for his 20-month-old daughter, Ayla Reynolds, who has been missing since Dec. 17.
Staff file photo by David Leaming
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Searchers in a Maine Warden Service airboat motor on the ice-covered Messalonskee Stream in Waterville on Dec. 19, 2011, in search of missing 20-month-old Ayla Reynolds. The search area was concentrated below the dam near Western Avenue, a short distance from the Violette Avenue home from which she disappeared on Dec. 17, 2011.
The call set off a chain of events that eventually grew into the largest criminal investigation in Maine's history.
This is the story of the unsolved case's earliest moments from some of the key people involved -- the police chief, Ayla's maternal family, and neighbors -- as well as insight from a law enforcement expert who knows how investigators would have approached the case and its subjects.
Police have maintained near-perfect silence during the ongoing investigation. Steve McCausland, spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety, has shared some information over the last year but mainly deflects questions with now-familiar refrain: "Those are investigative details and we're not getting into them."
Both Waterville police and Maine State Police have denied requests for the transcript from the 911 call that DiPietro made that morning a year ago. The dispatcher who took the call would not comment and the two police officers who were first on the scene -- one of whom is now retired -- won't share what they saw and heard.
Police sent everybody
The dispatch log says two officers responded within the first 10 minutes of the call. Within an hour and a half, two more officers, two detectives and three units from Waterville Fire Department were at 29 Violette Ave., searching for the missing toddler.
Waterville Police Chief Joseph Massey, who was off duty for the weekend, arrived by 10:30 that morning with the deputy chief, Charles Rumsey. Throughout the day, more personnel arrived, including state police, the Maine Warden Service, two more detectives and three more officers from Waterville.
They searched in backyards, houses, woods, Dumpsters, and nearby rivers.
"Certainly we were hoping we would locate her in a very short period of time, but unfortunately, that didn't happen," Massey said.
'I have no words'
At about 9:30 a.m., the doorbell rang at Ronnie Reynolds' Portland home. When he opened the door, he saw a familiar face -- a Portland police officer Reynolds knew through his service in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Reynolds, Ayla's maternal grandfather, invited the officer inside and the conversation quickly turned disconcerting.
"He asked me where my granddaughter was," Reynolds recalled. "I said, 'Well, Ayla is in Waterville with her father.'"
This highlights a wise choice of words by the investigator, which allowed the words and reaction of Reynolds to be gauged.
Reynolds knew something wasn't right. His heart started pounding. He lashed out at the officer.
"I said, 'What the (expletive) are you talking about?'"
This shows a reaction of anger. Always note when someone is quick to agree with, or even praise, investigators while the child is newly missing. The innocent are often angry, and very dissatisified and feel no need to "make nice" with law enforcement as they are too upset about the child to be polite. This is also the thinking of Susan Adams in her 911 call analysis, asking, "Does the emergency call begin with a greeting?", which is something unexpected from the innocent parent. Urgency often nullifies time for a greeting.
The officer told Reynolds that Ayla was missing.
"That's when I fell to the ground and cried," he said.
Note that we do not know where he fell (indoors?) yet he calls it "ground." This is a very emotional reaction and the recall shows his body posture, indicating an increase in tension, even at the recall of what happened one year ago.
Next, the officer asked Reynolds where Ayla's mother was, and Reynolds told him she was in a car on her way to Machiasport.
At about 10 a.m., Robert Fortier was nearing Ellsworth during a four-hour drive to see his son, Raymond Fortier -- an inmate at the Downeast Correctional Facility in Machiasport -- when his phone rang, he recalled.
Fortier answered the call and Reynolds told him Ayla was missing.
Beside him, Ayla's mother, Trista Reynolds, was asleep in the passenger seat on the long drive to see her then-fiancé. Ronnie Reynolds told Fortier to keep driving to Machiasport until there was more information. By the time they reached Ellsworth, Reynolds called again to say that a detective from Waterville wanted to speak to Trista Reynolds in person.
Fortier pulled into a Dunkin' Donuts parking lot, woke Trista Reynolds up and handed her the phone.
Groggy from sleep, she couldn't understand what her father was saying.
"He was in a panic and crying," she recalled. "I said, 'What's wrong? Talk to me.' But he couldn't get out the words."
Note that as she recalls a past tense event:
1. She uses past tense verbs
2. She includes her own quote
3. She includes the pronoun "I", making strong connection to the statement.
Ronnie Reynolds turned the phone over to his wife -- Trista Reynold's stepmother -- who told Reynolds that her daughter was missing.
"I had no words," Trista Reynolds recalled. "I didn't know what to say. I was thinking, like, 'Am I in a dream right now?' It was all just a shock."
It is noted that this statement is one year distant.
1. She had "no words"
2. She did not know what to say; reporting in the negative means it is very important to her.
3. The emotional part of her account is found after the first 2 sentences. This is an indication that:
a. Memory is in play
b. Location of Emotions: The emotions are found in the 'after' stage; that is, after she did not have words, did not know what to say, and wondered if it was a dream.
This is an indication of veracity in her recall.
Her first thoughts turned to Ayla's father, DiPietro, who was caring for Ayla the last few months while Trista Reynolds was in substance rehab.
"The only thing I could think about was, 'Where the hell was Justin?'" she recalled. "If he was in the house, this shouldn't have happened. If he was protecting Ayla, this shouldn't have happened."
After not knowing what to say, and wondering if it was a dream, her suspicion turned on the father. This is an indication that she had reason, up to that point, to be suspicious of him, in spite of her personal feelings for him.
Fortier drove her to the Waterville police station. It was a long drive from Ellsworth -- about an hour and a half -- but Fortier said it felt longer. Neither could believe what had happened.
Fortier, 57, is a fire lieutenant in his hometown of Alfred in York County. With 34 years of experience in the department, he has dealt with tragedies -- car accidents and house fires -- and he tried to keep the conversation lighthearted for Trista Reynold's sake.
At the police station, both were interviewed by police. Ronnie Reynolds, who arrived in Waterville about 30 minutes later, was also interviewed.
Fortier said the three weren't there for long -- in less than two hours they were sent home to southern Maine. Fortier was interviewed for a few minutes about their drive toward Machiasport, but that was it, he said. Ronnie Reynolds recalls being interviewed for about 20 minutes.
It does not take long to clear the innocent, who will, early and often, say, "I did not hurt Ayla" and "I did not cause her disappearance" in very plain language. Things such as:
"I have no idea what happened" and "I had nothing to do with her disappearance" would have meant longer interviews, as these are not reliable denials. "I have no idea what happened to Ayla" is not only unreliable, but even on face value, it is untrue, if she was reported kidnapped or "taken" from the home. If you reported your child taken from the home, you do have an idea of what happened: someone took her. She did not climb out a window, nor walk out a door on her own, otherwise, she would be easily found.
Trista Reynolds said her interview was longer. She was taken to a room and questioned by Waterville detective David Caron, she said. Caron asked her where she was headed that morning and why, and when she last saw and spoke to Ayla.
This was helpful, as the focus is always upon the parents, especially in the area of custody battles.
"The last time I saw her was November 21 and the last time I talked to her was December 8, and that was it," she said.
Note strong past tense language, with pronoun, "I"
Note "that was it" is indicative of conclusiveness. This would be considered "end" of information.
This leads us to ask: Why would she end the flow of information?
Answer: Because she had no contact with Ayla post December 8. With this type of statement, police would have verified that it was the last communication.
Question: How is it that the mother can recall the exact date of seeing and then speaking to Ayla?
Answer: It is by maternal instinct: mothers of missing children often speak with great clarity which is indicative of stress hormones. They rack their brains in an attempt to remember anything that might help the case. Here, she shut down on the question and its structure is indicative of truth: she did not speak to her daughter after the date given.
She told Caron that she and Justin weren't talking and she had filed parental rights and responsibility papers for Ayla.
There is no quote for "weren't talking" but it may be that her internal, personal, subjective dictionary was in play:
Does "not talking" mean not friendly speaking?
Does it mean "no communication"?
Does it mean, "no verbal, but email or text?"
Caron told her that Justin, his girlfriend, Courtney Roberts, sister, Elisha DiPietro, and mother, Phoebe DiPietro were also in the station being interviewed.
Later, Trista Reynolds ran into Elisha DiPietro and Courtney Roberts in a hallway.
"I said, 'Where is she, Elisha?' and Elisha said, 'Where is she, Trista?'"
Please note: In Statement Analysis, when someone answers a question with a question, it means that the question itself, is sensitive to the subject. Here, Elisha DiPietro avoids answering the question entirely, meaning that the question of where Ayla was, was something highly sensitive to Elisha.
This is indicative of guilty knowledge and is important to note in context.
Elisha DiPietro was one of the adults in the home the night Ayla met foul play.
Elisha DiPietro was one of the adults police said were withholding information.
Elisha DiPietro would not give a straight answer about her polygraph (indicative of failure) to the reporter, Ben McCanna.
This statement by Elisha would indicate planning on her part, along with the other two, to blame Trista Reynolds, from the start.
When this is taken in context, it shows the desire to see an innocent blamed for what was done to Ayla, and an attempt to cover what it is that they did after Ayla's life was taken from her.
Ron Martinelli, a retired police officer from San Jose, Calif., and an exert witness for both plaintiffs' and defense attorneys, said police were most likely trying to establish a timeline of where Ayla was at each moment during the 24 hours before she was reported missing.
They may also have been conducting cognitive behavioral interviews with everyone involved.
The interviews are broken into four steps. In the first step, investigators establish rapport with the person, Martinelli said. They might talk about sports or shared hobbies.
"You're really not even talking about the case, you're talking about innocuous things," he said. "The reason you do that is so you, the investigator, can get a baseline of response for that person."
He is correct. It is why the question, "Where is Ayla?" is so important (and "where is your granddaughter?") as it allows careful listening and observation.
In the second step, the investigators establish a narrative. They ask the person being interviewed to share, at length, details from the moments leading up to the disappearance.
"We don't interrupt the person. They should just talk, and you let that person get completely talked out," he said.
During the third step, investigators ask follow-up questions to the narrative and ask people to recount their stories in reverse order.
"The human mind only goes from A to Z," he said. "It's extremely difficult for a deceptive person to go from Z to A. That's how we trip people up when they talk to us."
In the fourth step, investigators ask people to summarize their stories, which can sometimes end with a confession.
Looking for evidence
Meanwhile, at the crime scene, investigators would have been looking for any signs of the toddler's blood, hair or other body fluids, and seeing if DNA from others in the home is mingled with it.
Investigators will also look for points of forcible entry.
"Is there any trace evidence that somebody walked up to this house or made an entry through one of the entries to the house -- a door or a window," Martinelli said. "Are there any tool marks? Is there any debris? Are there any footsteps?"
A kidnapping would leave behind trace evidence. Police stated early on that this was not a kidnapping and the story the three were sticking to did not "pass the straight face test"
When Phoebe DiPietro spoke, she used distancing language about "your home" being watched; not her home, and "your granddaughter", but not "my granddaughter", as well as being deceptive about "not hearing" anything that night. She was later forced to admit deception via not being in the home that night. This highlighted her knowledge that she needed to lie for her son.
They also look for signs of falsified forced entry, he said.
In the initial moments of a missing child investigation, the focus is almost always on the parents. Custody issues, in particular, are a red flag, he said. Trista Reynolds had filed for custody of Ayla two days before she was reported missing.
He said it's not unusual for parent or parents to not cooperate with police. Even people with ironclad alibis can be alienated by insensitive investigators and refuse to cooperate.
"It could either be that they're truly a suspect and they're trying to conceal something from police, or the police didn't maintain rapport," Martinelli said.
In the interview, the investigator is given an impression that is easily marked:
Either the subject is working with me, to uncover everything possible to find Ayla; or,
the subject is working against me, attempting to conceal information so that Ayla will not be found.
This was the element present for detectives in interviews with The Three in the home that night: they sought to hinder information so that Ayla would not be found. This is why police said that they were "withholding" information: this is an act of the will, and is deliberate.
During the weeks that followed, police announced that they had ruled out any possibility that Ayla left the house on her own or that she was abducted.
In January, police announced that her blood had been discovered in the basement of her home and the three adults who saw her last -- DiPietro, Elisha DiPietro and Roberts -- were withholding information.
In late May, police announced that Ayla probably was dead.
One year later, there have been no arrests.
Ellen Paul, a Violette Avenue resident, wonders about Ayla every time she drives by the home where she was last seen. She said the neighborhood hasn't been the same since Dec. 17, 2011.
Even if the case is solved, it may never return to normal.
"The memories will always be there," she said. "Nothing will change what happened."
Should the 911 call be released, Statement Analysis will be done. It is our understanding that police do not wish to release it, but the DiPietros have said that they want it released. This speaks to the confidence that they have had in their deception, buttressed by the lack of arrests.