As the public tries to make sense out of the story of missing Maine toddler Ayla Reynolds, her mother Trista Reynolds agreed to answer some questions that have been asked in the blogosphere. She addressed Justin DiPietro's emergence as a parent, his girlfriend Courtney Roberts, the role of DHHS caseworker supervisor Karen J. Small, and her interactions with Justin concerning Ayla. A second article will provide new details about Ayla's injuries, the insurance policy Justin took out on Ayla's life and the timing of Ayla's disappearance.
Trista declined to discuss with me any potential role drug trafficking may have had in the case.
In the Beginning
"Justin knew of Ayla the day I found out I was pregnant," Trista said. "I constantly fought with Justin to be part of her life."
Despite Trista's desire to see Justin participate in Ayla's life, Justin resisted, she said, until July or August. Ayla was 15 or 16 months old by then and more than six months had elapsed since Justin was ordered to pay child support. Trista said on that first visit, Justin, his mother, Phoebe DiPietro, and his sister Elisha DiPietro, with Elisha's daughter Gabriella in tow, picked up Ayla and took her shopping with them.
Justin and Trista's brother Ronnie used to be friends, Trista said. And Trista knew Justin and his brother Lance. Beyond that, she did not have contact with Justin's family and friends. To this day, she's met Phoebe and Elisha only twice, she said. Trista said Justin didn't like her family except for Ronnie and insisted they not be around when he came to get Ayla.
Asked if she ever hung out with Justin's girlfriend Courtney, one of the three adults in the house the night Ayla reportedly disappeared, Trista said no.
"I've never met Courtney," she said, although she does have some friends who went to school with Courtney. "Courtney wasn't in the picture" before she had Ayla, Trista said.
Once Justin had Ayla living with him, Trista wanted to meet Courtney. She said Justin agreed with her that it was important for her to know the people spending time with Ayla on a regular basis and promised to arrange a meeting. That meeting never happened. It's Trista's understanding that Courtney refused.
Karen J. Small
Karen J. Small is a caseworker supervisor at Maine DHHS. Some reports claim she is a relative by marriage to Phoebe DiPietro and a good friend as well. Trista said she doesn't know whether those reports are accurate or not.
Small had been involved with the Reynolds family on a previous case. From the day she met Small, Trista said, the two women disliked each other. Small was directly involved in turning Ayla over to Justin, Trista said.
"Phoebe goes and calls, and Phoebe's the one who makes everything happen. Karen Small told Phoebe where my sister lives, where Ayla was," Trista said, a revelation she considers a violation of her privacy rights.
"Every time I would leave Ayla, she would freak," Trista said, but it was "worse with Justin. She did show those signs of being scared."
Trista described Justin as "manipulative." Not wanting to fight in front of the kids, she often felt she had no choice but to give in to him, she said.
From Trista's perspective, Justin had the upper hand once he had Ayla in his home. "He knew he could make all the decisions," she said.
"I never treated him that way," she explained. "I'd rearrange my whole day just for her to see him. He is her dad." It bothered her that Justin didn't show her the same respect.