November 8, 2011 in Region

Foul play suspected in case of missing Bellevue boy

Associated Press
AP Photo/Courtesy Solomon Metalwala photo

In this photo provided by Solomon Metalwala, Sky Metalwala, right, is seen with his sister, Maile Metalwala. Julia Biryukova, the children’s mother, said the 2-year-old boy vanished from an unlocked car that ran out of gas.
(Full-size photo)

BELLEVUE, Wash. — Police in Washington state said today they suspect a crime in the disappearance of a 2-year-old boy whose mother claimed he disappeared when she left him alone in a car for an hour last weekend.

“Given the limited amount of information we have, the fact that there’s really no solid leads to follow up on in regard to where he might be — absolutely, we suspect foul play,” Bellevue Police Maj. Mike Johnson told KING-TV.

Johnson did not immediately return a call or email from The Associated Press.

The boy’s mother, Julie Biryukova, reported that her car ran out of gas Sunday morning in Bellevue, a city of 122,000 across Lake Washington from Seattle, police said. She told investigators she left Sky in the unlocked vehicle and walked with her 4-year-old daughter about a mile to a gas station. When she returned to the car, Sky was gone, she said.

Investigators searched a 20-block area and even went door-to-door but found no sign of the toddler. There was no gas can at the car, which started easily, police said.

Bellevue police said Monday that both parents were cooperating, and Biryukova had consented to have her vehicle and home in nearby Redmond searched. The older child has been placed in protective custody.

The toddler’s disappearance came at the height of a custody fight between Biryukova and the boy’s father, Solomon Metalwala. They separated in March 2010 amid back-and-forth protective orders and allegations of abuse and psychiatric problems.

Last week, at a mandatory mediation session, a tentative agreement was hammered out that would allow Metalwala to have some visitation with Sky and his older sister, his lawyer said.

If Sky Metalwala was in fact left in the car, it wouldn’t be the first time, court records showed. When he was just 3 months old, court records revealed, his parents left him in their sport utility vehicle in a Target parking lot for 55 minutes on a 27-degree day. They came out of the store to get him 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. 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.

Biryukova and her lawyer did not immediately return calls seeking comment. Her younger brother, Stanley Biryukova, said Julia was crying frantically when she called him Sunday afternoon and explained what had happened.

“I’m hoping they’ll find the child,” he said.

Metalwala spoke with reporters Monday at the office of his lawyer, Leslie Clay Terry III. They said his estranged wife’s story was bizarre: Why didn’t she call for help, knock on a nearby door, or take the child with her?

“I don’t understand why she would leave a little baby in the car,” Metalwala said. “The whole story is puzzling.”

Several TV stations reported that Metalwala took a polygraph test Monday evening. Terry told KING-TV the results were “inconclusive.” He said his client was too tired to give an accurate result and would take another test later.

Biryukova and Metalwala were together for 14 years. He was 21, and she was a high school sophomore when they began dating, according to one of her court declarations. In another declaration, her mother, Nadia Biryukova, wrote that they married in 2003 in her kitchen just before he was to be deported to Pakistan.

In court documents filed in connection with their divorce, Julia Biryukova said their relationship deteriorated in 2008 after they bought an expensive home in Kirkland and couldn’t keep up with the payments on that property and a condominium they also owned.

The couple separated in March 2010, court records show. In June 2010, the same month Metalwala filed for divorce, Biryukova, 30, filed for a protection order on behalf of herself and their two children.

She said Metalwala, 36, had an anger problem, was verbally abusive and that he had beat her for the first time on Christmas Day, just weeks after the incident at the Target parking lot. The reason was that she had allowed Sky to sleep later than expected, she said.

She alleged the abuse escalated after that, with Solomon telling her to go live on the street and work as a prostitute, she said.

Last December, a social worker determined that there was a “preponderance of evidence” that Metalwala had struck his daughter hard enough to cause bruising, court records show.

The social worker also said Sky had troubling bruises but that it wasn’t clear where he got them. Metalwala’s attorney, Leslie Clay Terry III, said Monday the case worker had only interviewed the mother and that Child Protective Services later conducted an investigation that cleared Metalwala.

“He was exonerated completely,” Terry said.

Metalwala responded that Biryukova had mental health problems and was involuntarily committed to a mental clinic in 2010.

“The accusations against him were totally false,” his lawyer said.

Earlier this year a social worker with state Child Protective Services reported that a doctor found Biryukova to be in good mental health and an appropriate caregiver for the children.

One psychologist who evaluated Biryukova wrote in July 2010 that though she was dealing with “a severe form of obsessive compulsive disorder, I do not believe that interferes with her ability to be a compassionate, effective parent to her children.”

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