Little Girl Lost

Lisa Irwin

It’s a high stakes, middle of the night gambit that has little chance for success. You can silently and carefully observe the house and its residents all you want. You can become familiar with patterns, but a house full of kids can never be totally predictable. Flashlights are to be avoided as much as possible so your eyes can become accustomed to the dark, lest you step on toys and sleeping pets. Forget about windows and fences, even a gymnast would have trouble conquering those obstacles with a child in tow. And even the fingers of a skilled locksmith cannot control the volume of the tumblers as they succumb to his practiced touch, nor the distinctive click of the door as the perp and his prey disappear into the darkness.


It’s a scenario that has supposedly played out far too often lately. 11-month-old Lisa Irwin wasn’t in her crib on the morning of October 4, 2011 so her mother called the Kansas City, Missouri 911 emergency line. A few months later, on December 17 in Waterville, Maine 2-year-old baby Ayla Reynolds father called 911 to report that she had been kidnapped from her bedroom the night before. 6-year-old Isabel Celis father reported his daughter missing from her Tucson, Arizona home at 8:00 a.m. on April 21, 2012. Finally, 6-year-old Sierra Newbold’s mother made an emergency call at about 7:30 a.m., on June 26, to report that her daughter was missing from her bedroom.

Ayla Reynolds

Unfortunately, I’m all too familiar with the pattern. In 1993 my Polly was snatched from her bedroom. Because there were witnesses and because of a dogged investigation Polly’s killer now sits on California’s death row. Almost a decade later, on June 5, 2002 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped from her Salt Lake City, UT bedroom. Miraculously, 9-months later Elizabeth was recovered alive not 20-miles from her home. Her kidnappers are now serving life sentences behind bars.


In both of these cases family members who were initially under intense scrutiny were quickly removed from the list of possible suspects because we truly cooperated with the authorities. Polygraph exams were administered, multiple interrogations were conducted and witnesses were questioned.

Isabel Celis

With the exception of Sierra Newbold, whose broken and abused body was found discarded in a ditch near her home shortly after her mother called 911; the other children have not been located.  Some believe that the girls have been sold into sexual slavery. However, when 1.6-2.8 million runaway children live on the mean streets of America on a given day, and are easily found in medium to large cities throughout the United States, why would traffickers risk everything to steal an infant in the dead of night?


Others speculate that the children are victims of revenge, or that their disappearances are payback for drug debts. While revenge kidnappings do occur, they are much more common as plot devices in action novels than in real life. As drug cartels ramp up levels of violence, including kidnappings for drug debt, there has not been a ransom demand in any of the cases cited above.

Sierra Newbold

Closer to home rumors circulate that “bad” uncles are responsible for the girl’s disappearance. Unfortunately, predators do not exist in a vacuum. They have relatives and families. Predatory relatives can go undetected for decades or even avoid detection altogether. I know of many families that have been victimized by one of their own. However, these men tend to commit crimes of convenience. They wait until they are alone with the victim, when they think that they can avoid detection, and then they strike; oftentimes with lethal violence. They don’t sneak into the house in the middle of the night – because they don’t have to.


Typically, the parents of kidnapped children would move heaven and earth to recover their kids. That is what the Klaas and Smart families did. We worked with law enforcement; we pestered the media and embraced our local communities. But, more than anything else, we never gave up hope. Instead, we did something every day that would move the case forward. Some might say that we were annoying.

Polly Hannah Klaas

However, baby Lisa’s parents lack of cooperation with the Police is almost as well documented than the disappearance of their daughter. According to the Police the three adults that were in the house the night that baby Ayla vanished have not been forthcoming with details of her disappearance. In Tucson, Child Protection Services ordered Isabel Celis father to move out of the house that he shared with his family and cease all contact with his other children. It is still too early in the game to judge Sierra Newbold’s case. Hopefully, it will not linger without resolution as have the others.


I have no idea if these parents are involved in their children’s disappearance. What I do know is that one of the most challenging and difficult scenario imaginable is being replicated far too often throughout the country. That these cases remain open must also strike fear in the hearts of neighbors and friends. If such brazen criminals are freely roaming our neighborhoods and the authorities are unable to solve the cases, then all children remain at risk.

Elizabeth Smart

If you are concerned that your children may not be safe in your home I offer the following suggestions. Lock your doors and windows at night. Purchase surveillance equipment from a home security specialist. Get a big, loud dog that is easily disturbed during the night. Know where your young children are at all times and don’t leave them by themselves. Work with your neighbors to create an effective neighborhood watch program so that you can work together to protect each other’s children and property. Know your neighborhood. Show your children the safe places to play and areas to avoid like dark stairwells and alleys. The more you know about your neighborhood the safer your family will be.

Baby Ayla and the Code of Silence

I had a long phone conversation with Justin DiPietro the other day. He seems like a genuine fellow and readily answered the questions I posed to him regarding the disappearance of his daughter baby Ayla. I am not going to divulge anything that is not already in the public arena as I don’t want to betray his confidence. However, the one thing that I continue to find troubling about this case is the code of silence that Justin adopted early on. Whether it was self-imposed or requested by law enforcement, the collateral damage done to his character and reputation is as large as it is far reaching.

It has been more than four weeks since baby Ayla disappeared from her bedroom in the house that she shared with Justin, and he has only recently made himself available to the press. In the meantime baby Ayla’s mother Trista Reynolds has attacked Justin as relentlessly and effectively as General Sherman scorched the earth on his march against the Confederate states in the Civil War. On December 19, two days after the little girl was reported missing in Waterville, Maine, Trista told Nancy Grace that Justin was “vindictive” and “verbally abusive”. She further claimed that he has refused to let her have Ayla for even one day since he took custody of her in October and that Ayla would return from visits with Justin, “With bruises on her or…with a pulled muscle”.

The next day, on December 20, Justin issued a statement through the Waterville Police Department saying that he “has no idea what happened to Ayla,” and disputing prior media claims by Reynolds that the two hadn’t been in communication with one another in recent weeks. On December 23, Trista told the Today Show, “I trusted him to keep her safe, and now she is missing and I don’t know where she is. I blame him right now. He did not protect her the way he was supposed to.”On the 28th, Justin issued a second statement through Waterville police, repeating that he doesn’t know what happened to Ayla and thanking community members for their support. The next day Trista told Matt Lauer, “He says he’s not in hiding, but why won’t he come out, why won’t he talk to me? What’s he so afraid of?” On Dec. 30, the State Police take over jurisdiction after it is announced that they now suspect foul play in the disappearance of baby Ayla.
Finally, on Jan. 2, Justin appeared on the Today Show justifying his silence, saying that in the first few days, “I was emotionally incapable of coming out to do an interview.” He also said that the police initially advised him against doing media interviews because it could hinder the investigation. Within the last several days Justin has been embroiled in a public controversy over the results of his polygraph exam. My advice to Justin, and to Trista is to keep it simple and tell the truth. If you do that you won’t have to backtrack.

Justin’s public appearances have been erratic and forced, but ineloquence is not a crime, it is simply an inconvenience. However, one thing does stand out: he has refrained from attacking Trista Reynolds. He has not mentioned her substance abuse issues, her lack of a permanent address, or her failure to travel fifty-miles to the scene of the crime to physically confront him. Instead he kept the focus on his missing daughter. I believe that speaks to his credit.

I have long believed that the parents have a duty to advocate on behalf of their missing children. Even if you are paralyzed by grief and fear it is important to find the strength within to be there for your child. You want to get the public invested and you want to ensure that law enforcement maintains an aggressive and active investigation. As baby Ayla’s case demonstrates, public advocacy also provides you with an opportunity to defend yourself. To fail to do so is to create, as Justin succinctly put it, “A helpless situation”.

Is Justin DiPietro involved in baby Ayla’s disappearance? I have no way of knowing, just as I have no way of knowing if Trista Reynolds has any anything to do with this ongoing mystery. However, I do know a few things. I am absolutely convinced that this is not a stranger abduction. Strangers don’t lurk in sub-zero temperatures any more than they target children with broken arms. I also know that these are troubled young adults who have a toxic relationship. I still believe that the universe of potential suspects is small and that the answer to what happened to baby Ayla exists within the murky waters of dysfunction. We need to stop chasing shadows and leave the investigation to the authorities.  If they dig deep enough they will learn the truth.