(PORTLAND, Me.) — Maine authorities investigating what happened to toddler Ayla Reynolds now believe foul play was involved in her disappearance.
“We base our conclusions on evidence gathered by investigators during the past two weeks. This case has evolved from the search for a missing child to a criminal investigation,” Waterville Police Department Chief Joseph Massey said in a statement tonight.
Ayla has been missing since Dec. 17.
Earlier this week, a $30,000 reward was being offered for information in the case. Investigators searched for the toddler through the holiday weekend. Police said they believe that additional leads that came in over the weekend were prompted by the coverage of the case on “America’s Most Wanted.”
The leads, however, have not yet led to any suspects and authorities are conscious of the time that has passed since Ayla was last seen.
“In most missing person cases, the longer the investigation goes on the more concerned we become that we can find the person safe, particularly when the case involves the most vulnerable members of our community such as children and seniors,” Massey said earlier.
According to police, Ayla’s father, Justin DiPietro, 24, said he put the child to bed the night of Dec. 16 in his home and awoke the next morning to find her missing. Police have said several other adults were in the home, including one nonrelative.
Reynolds was living with her father while the girl’s mother, Trista Reynolds, 23, was in rehab for substance abuse.
Trista Reynolds’ family said that the 20-month-old had been taken from their custody by the Department of Health and Human Services and placed with her father. Reynolds said the baby, who broke her arm at her father’s house two weeks before she disappeared, had begun showing mysterious bruising on her leg.
While DiPietro did not comment on the girl’s alleged injuries, he disputed the Reynolds family’s account of Ayla’s custody.
“Ayla was in my sole custody at the time of her disappearance per agreement between her mother and I, because she was unable to care for Ayla,” he said in the statement, his first public comment since he reported Ayla missing. “I have shared every piece of information with the police.”
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio
Jeff Tavss & Victor Oquendo, WPLG
Debra Goldschmidt and Nadia Kounang, CNN
Paul R. La Monica, CNN