BELLEVUE, Wash. — The mother of a missing Washington state toddler didn't run out of gas on the day her son disappeared – a discovery that contradicts what she has previously told investigators, police said Wednesday.
Julia Biryukova has told police that her 2-year-old son, Sky Metalwala, vanished Sunday in Bellevue when she left him sleeping alone in her unlocked car after it ran out of gas. She and her 4-year-old daughter walked to get gas, she said, and when they returned an hour later, the boy was gone.
But investigators have found that there was enough gas in the car to run a considerable distance, Bellevue police Maj. Mike Johnson said Wednesday afternoon. Police haven't ruled out some other mechanical problem with the car.
Investigators continue to receive tips from the public – but none has been helpful to the investigation – including a few people wondering if there could be a connection to a TV show aired Saturday, the day before Sky was reported missing.
An episode of "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit" about a missing child was "strikingly similar in nature" to this real-life mystery, Johnson said.
He has repeatedly asserted that Biryukova, or someone close to her, knows his fate, but no one is speaking up, even as hope for finding him alive fades.
"The public, I'm sure, is as frustrated as we are in the fact that mom isn't willing to come in and provide a polygraph," he told a news conference. "To be quite honest, that looks suspicious and we're puzzled by that."
Johnson said Biryukova's story has become less and less plausible as police have tried and failed to find any evidence that supports the facts as she presented them.
He emphasized, however, that Biryukova remains cooperative in other ways, by answering every police question through her attorney, driving police along the route she drove and then walked, and allowing complete access to her home and car.
"We want to believe Julia. We want to help her find her missing child," Johnson said.
Johnson revealed that Biryukova said she was taking the boy to a hospital because he didn't feel well – even though she left her purse, wallet and identification at home. It wasn't clear how she expected to get gas for the car or have her son treated without the items, he said.
Sky's disappearance came amid a bitter divorce and custody fight between Biryukova and the boy's father, Solomon Metalwala. During a tough mediation session that lasted about 12 hours last week, the parties reached a tentative agreement that would allow Metalwala to have some visitation with Sky and his older sister.
But two days later – and two days before she reported her son missing – Biryukova decided to pull out of the agreement, Metalwala's divorce attorney, D. Michael Tomkins, said Wednesday. In a letter sent by her attorney, Biryukova insisted that everyone at the mediation session had been against her and the settlement was unfair, Tomkins said.
The children didn't attend the marathon session, and it's possible they were left home alone for the entire time – raising the possibility that Sky could have become dehydrated, Tomkins said.
Papers filed in the divorce say that Biryukova suffered from "severe" obsessive-compulsive disorder. Metalwala wrote in a declaration that she would frequently go on 10-hour cleaning binges during which she wouldn't even feed the children, but a doctor reported that her diagnosis did not interfere with her ability to care for the kids.
Johnson said Biryukova acknowledged having a history of leaving the children home alone for extended periods of time. Police know whether she did so during the lengthy mediation – but they won't release that information, Johnson said.
Investigators on Wednesday were focusing on processing the car for forensic evidence. They also were giving voluntary polygraph exams to the boy's father and several of his relatives and taking DNA samples to match with DNA evidence found at Biryukova's apartment.
Johnson said the tenor of the investigation has changed because they've run out of options for searching for the child. He denied media reports that police were search landfills or garbage transfer stations, but did not rule out that possibility if evidence indicates they should go there.
If Sky was in fact left in the car, it wouldn't have been the first time.
When he was 3 months old, his parents left him in their SUV in a Target parking lot for 55 minutes on a 27-degree day, court records showed. The couple came out of the store to get Sky only after police arrived and asked for the vehicle's owner to be paged.
Redmond police cited both parents for reckless endangerment in the December 2009 incident. However, the case was dismissed early this year after the pair completed a year of probation, 40 hours of community service and a 10-week parenting class.