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.