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Search for missing Maine toddler goes inside home

Investigators on Thursday put up tape around the home of a 20-month-old girl who's been missing since last weekend as the search for her entered its sixth day.
/ Source: TODAY staff and wire

Investigators on Thursday put up tape around the home of a 20-month-old girl who's been missing since last weekend as the search for her entered its sixth day.

But Waterville Police Chief Joseph Massey insisted that Ayla Reynolds' disappearance remains a missing child case, that "everything remains open and we're not discounting anything."

Massey told reporters that the investigation is now focused on an expanded search of the house in a neighborhood of neatly kept tract homes.

"That is the last place Ayla was seen. So as you might, expect we're going to give a lot of attention to that particular house, looking for any clues where she might be or where it would help us to locate her," Massey said. "We need to go through that as thoroughly as we can, just like we do in any other investigation."

He said officials from the state attorney general's office, including criminal division chief William Stokes, were at the house, but that was just to give them an opportunity to look at the site.

"We're at a point where we thought it was appropriate for him to come in and just do a walk-through," Massey said.

Spokeswoman Brenda Kielty said the visit to Ayla's father's home by Stokes and Andrew Benson, another top homicide prosecutor, was "standard protocol." She declined further comment on the case.

The police chief played down the significance of yellow tape strung about the perimeter of the small property, saying it was "just an additional barrier" to secure the site. He said people shouldn't read too much into the presence of a state police incident command van parked there, saying it was for the convenience of technicians working at the site.

The investigation continued in other parts of the central Maine city, including at the airport where cadaver dogs were brought in, as well as streams and waterways. By Thursday, police had received more than 200 tips from the public, all of which were being followed up and some re-checked, the chief said.

Ayla was living with her father, Justin DiPietro, who reported her missing Saturday. DiPietro told police he last saw her when he put her to bed the previous night. He said she was wearing green pajamas with polka dots and the words "Daddy's Princess" on them. She also had a cast on her broken left arm. Ayla ended up with her father after child welfare workers intervened while her mother, Trista Reynolds, checked herself into a 10-day rehabilitation program. Her disappearance unleashed a flood of leads from a sympathetic public and a search by state and local police and game wardens in the central Maine city. The FBI also got involved. While residents volunteered to help canvass neighborhoods, police checked out trash bins across the city and FBI agents knocked on doors. Officials even went so far as to drain a stream a few blocks from DiPietro's home so wardens could get a better look, both from the ground and from an airplane. Cadaver dogs were searching an area in the woods near the Waterville airport on Thursday, WCSH-TV reported. Ayla ended up with her father after child welfare workers intervened while her mother, Trista Reynolds, checked herself into a 10-day rehabilitation program. Reynolds, who completed the rehab, had filed court papers that she hoped would lead to the return of her daughter. The filing came the day before Ayla was last seen.

"I want to see her face, I want to see her eyes, I want to feel her touch," Reynolds told reporters. "I want to tell her I love her, and I feel like I can't protect her."

Searchers have looked through trash bins and lowered portions of Messalonskee Stream in the city, looking for signs of Ayla. The FBI continued Wednesday to go door-to-door in a "knock and talk" canvassing effort. Massey said the number of leads offered by citizens grew by more than 60 in a day to nearly 165 by Wednesday. By Thursday, the number had grown to nearly 200.

Tuesday night, DiPietro addressed the public for the first time, saying in a statement he had "no idea what happened to Ayla, or who is responsible." DiPietro released the statement through the Waterville police, saying his family and friends will do "everything we can to assist in this investigation and get Ayla back home."

Reynolds said she began to question Ayla's care after the girl suffered a broken arm, which officials said happened in an accidental fall. She said that she and her family encouraged child welfare agents to check on Ayla, but that they didn't follow through. The Maine Department of Health and Human Services has had no comment on the request. Confidentiality laws bar the child welfare agency from even confirming whether it's working with an individual or family. Massey said DiPietro and Reynolds continue to cooperate with police. An Amber Alert, which lets the public know about an abducted child, wasn't declared, and no manhunt is under way. State police say the case didn't fit the criteria for an Amber Alert because Ayla was reported missing about 12 hours after being last seen, and there was no vehicle and no suspect.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.