All Eyes on Ayla Reynolds

Hey, all. Gerry here, and I wish I had better news.

Like some of you, I’ve been reading the newspaper stories about Ayla Reynolds, the 20-month-old girl reported missing from her bed in Waterville, Maine, Dec. 17. I read every one. I watch the TV news. I even watched CNN’s Nancy Grace: (“Tot snatched from bed—Exclusive”) as Nancy interviewed Trista Reynolds, the child’s mother. “All I want to know is where she is,” said Trista, who lost custody of the little girl a couple of months ago and has reportedly struggled with drug addiction.

It’s all pretty horrible. And familiar.

I say this, not because I’ve seen other kids snatched from their beds, but because I’ve written about one. A lot. His name was Lincoln and he was almost a year old. He disappeared from the bedroom of his mother’s apartment in Portland. Mom was a drug addict and for several hours didn’t notice he was gone. When it sank in, she freaked.

This was in my last crime novel, PORT CITY BLACK AND WHITE. My fictional cops converge on the neighborhood. They bring in tracking dogs. They interrogate the mom, her boyfriend, the child’s father, all of the neighbors, local gangbangers, a homeless woman who roams the neighborhood.

Nothing.

Days go by. The mom and her family accuse the police of dragging their feet because the mom is poor. The dad beats the boyfriend to a pulp. The neighbors say they’ve seen nothing, heard nothing, know nothing. The child has vanished. Poof. Gone. Just like that.

Of course, he hasn’t. And some of the people in the book know where he is. Even as the cops speculate that little Lincoln has been snatched to leverage a drug debt, or maybe has been sold on the street (you know what couples will pay for a healthy baby?), I knew what had really happened. After all, I’d made up the story.

I had someone tell me just last week that they couldn’t read my book because it involved a crime against a child and they didn’t have the stomach for it. I was surprised because as the author, I hadn’t found the story terribly disturbing. But then again, I knew how it would end.

That’s not the case with Ayla Reynolds. I walk out to the mailbox to get the paper every morning and, with trepidation, open the front page. I don’t want to see bad news. Like everyone else, I want to see the story that says the blonde, smiling toddler has been located and she’s alive and well. And I hope that whoever perpetrated this is locked up for a good long time.

As I write this, news isn’t good. Cadaver dogs dispatched. Homicide prosecutors have been at the scene. The police warn not to draw too many conclusions from that. The last development was local businesses putting up a $30,000 reward. So I’m still hopeful.

As a crime writer, I can come up with any number of scenarios that involve all sorts of insidious deception—and no violence to befall the child. I can envision any number of ways this all could play out—and end with the child safe and sound. I know the tangled webs that people weave, how one lie leads to another and before you know it, every investigator in the state is at your house, sitting you down at the table and saying, “Okay. Let’s go through this one more time.” I know that because I’ve invented those stories. I can invent one with a happy ending for Ayla Reynolds—but I can’t write it.

It’s an odd feeling, seeing things happen that are right out of my book, but knowing that this case has a life of its own. Something happened to this little girl and the mystery remains, day after day, cold night after cold night.

I have to confess It’s made me wonder, at least for a moment or two, why I invented such a story. A child snatched from his crib, his mother distraught, racked with guilt.  But in the end, it’s just that—a story. And just as I have the power to imagine such a mess, as the author I have the power to clean it up. I can put little Lincoln in harm’s way, but I can also save him.

Not with Ayla. I just follow this story like everyone else, with the hope that she is fine and the guilty parties in the case will get all they deserve. It happens in books, I know. Let it happen one more time.

 

About MCWriTers

Kate Flora is the author or co-author of fifteen books, including her Joe Burgess police procedural series, her Thea Kozak series, two true crimes, a stand-alone suspense and a memoir, as well as many short stories. Her books have been Edgar, Anthony, Agatha, and Derringer finalists. She’s twice won the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction and won the 2015 Public Safety Writers Association award for nonfiction. She divides her time between Maine and Massachusetts. Flora is a former international president of Sisters in Crime.
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12 Responses to All Eyes on Ayla Reynolds

  1. MCWriTers says:

    As they’ve ruled out Ayla walking away on her own, it’s either stranger abduction, which is highly unlikely, she’s been taken by someone known to the family, or the dad did it. Note that dad has not been visible in the news, hasn’t asked for his daughter back, has been largely invisible. And we know little to nothing about him…does he have any history of violence? I’m still hoping that one of his relatives, or one of hers, has taken little Ayla, but right now, my money is on the dad. Would love to know what the cadaver dogs found in that house.

    The public is always riveted to stories like these, and the news always has so little to report. Wonder if that 30K will stir things up a bit?

    • Gerry Boyle says:

      Yes, my bet is one side or the other in the custody fight. In fact, that’s the best case. Safe and sound and hidden away until someone can’t lie anymore or decides that $30K is a lot of money.

  2. Lea Wait says:

    I keep watching those newscasts, too, and hearing more details about that clearly disfunctional, quite possibly violent, family, and imagining my own version of the story, in which Ayla, and other children like her, are “disappeared,” by someone who can take them away to a safe place where they can grow up warm, fed, and loved, away from violence, drugs, and people who may love them, but who clearly are not ready for parenthood. I know that’s not a socially acceptable fantasy. And I’m sure not dreaming of a social service department and foster care. It’s a fantasy, folks. And, yes. I, too, want Ayla to come home, safe and unhurt. But every day that possibilty seems less likely. And, CNN addict that I am, every week, somewhere, there seems to be another Ayla.

  3. Brenda Buchanan says:

    Gerry, you’re so right about this compelling story. We were out of state over Chrhistmas and I found myself checking the PPH and BDN sites on the ‘net each day. I was hoping for good news, bracing myself for a tragic discovery.

    The waiting must be horrific for the family. It is hard enough for us.

  4. Paul Doiron says:

    Great post, Gerry. I have been riveted as well. And as an author of crime novels I find myself having contradictory responses to the “story” as it has made its way into the national media. On the one hand, my brain keeps working (without any firsthand evidence) to solve the disappearance as if it were a mystery novel that I was reading. On the other, I am aware that this a real-life horror show and that our fascination with these events can verge on…entertainment. I have no doubt that the people at the networks are genuinely concerned for Ayla (except for Nancy Grace, who is a monster), but they are not unaware of the ratings these stories get, and the affect those ratings have on their revenues. Separating fact from fiction isn’t just a challenge for crime novelists, it’s a moral problem for all of us.

    • Gerry Boyle says:

      Yes, Paul. The entertainment element is on my mind as well. Those of use who concoct these plots easily slip into detective mode when a case like this comes along. That’s why I hesitated to write this one at all. It’s not another book plot. It’s a real little girl and the consequences are real and lifelong. But the side of us that loves to solve puzzles can’t help but being drawn in. I like to think that it’s the good side of human nature. But good to remember it isn’t a game.

      • Paul Doiron says:

        Gerry: I think you’re right that the impulse to solve puzles is just human nature (or at least hominoid nature), and I am not critical of your post at all. I’d argue, in fact, that a crime novelist can offer a unique and useful perspective on these cases, not just because you’ve done research on the specifics of a child abduction but you’ve made an attempt to live in the heads of people who would do such a thing. You’ve sought to understand why someone might commit this kind of crime and you’ve attempted through your story to grant us insights into these motivations. We don’t have to approve of these actions but after reading PORT CITY BLACK & WHITE we can’t say that they are incomprehensible.

  5. MCWriTers says:

    Paul…I think particularly for those of us who write about public safety personnel, we’re trying to parse the language they’re using, trying to read between the lines, and comparing it to other cases.

    Because the dad has not spoken publicly but rather released a statement…we can’t try to find our friends who are versed in statement analysis to see what they think of his demeanor. Has anyone done this for the mom?

    Just hoping for that good result. But if someone took her, how could they keep her hidden this long?

    • Paul Doiron says:

      Kate: You know this from the Amy St. Laurent murder and your work as an AG, but there’s usually less mystery to these stories than the public is aware. The police are extremely sophisticated about cases like this one (about what’s likely versus improbable, based on decades of past cases, when you account for all sorts of variables, from the custody dispute to the mother’s addiction, from Ayla’s broken arm to the father’s reluctance to make a public statement). The public tends to see this in terms of answering a single question (“where is Ayla”), but the cops and the AGs are also working on building a case that they can prove, not just in the court of law, but in the court of public opinion. (Anyone who doesn’t think the last one matters should speak to the principals in the Dennis Dechaine case.)

  6. MCWriTers says:

    Exactly, Paul. The public is looking for an answer; the investigators are looking to build a case. All the certainty in the world as to what happened based on their knowledge and experience won’t matter if no one tells what they know, or if there isn’t evidence available. And the CSI effect, where juries expect smoking guns or detailed forensic evidence, makes their job that much harder.

    Sometimes cases are genuine mysteries, but usually the investigators have a pretty idea what they’re looking at. Ultimately, something will break, which is what that reward is supposed to do. 30K is a lot of incentive. As one investigator said to me once, eliminating possiblities is also important, as it helps to narrow the focus.

  7. Ramona says:

    This is a sadly fascinating post, and the comments equally so.

    I have been married to a journalist for a long time and have learned a lot through him. Reading between the lines of official statements, understanding what is not said and why, interpreting the action or inaction of law enforcement…no wonder we try to write stories on these topics. As Gerry points out, writers control the outcome.

  8. lil Gluckstern says:

    Which is why us readers read them. To see some sort of justice done. For a better outcome.

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