Police stymied by contradictions in Sky Metalwala's disappearance

Julia biryukova ludapfpdIn a strange case of life imitating art, it now appears that a recent episode of the NBC television series "Law & Order: SVU" featured a storyline remarkably similar to the account a mother in Washington state gave police about the disappearance of her 2-year-old son, Sky Metalwala, when she left him strapped in his car seat on the side of a road.

Julia Biryukova has told detectives her car ran out of gas Sunday morning while she was trying to take her son to the hospital. When she returned from the gas station an hour later, she said, her son was gone.

The TV show featured a story about a woman who claimed her car was stolen outside a  convenience store with her son buckled in the back seat.

In the show, the mother, like Biryukova, is in the midst of a difficult divorce. And police come to suspect that the parents know more about the case than they're letting on.

"I've heard about the 'Law and Order: SVU' episode that has great similarity to this case. I heard that it aired Saturday, the day before the disappearance of Sky," Bellevue Police Maj. Mike Johnson told reporters at a news conference Wednesday.

"I know that there are several folks up in the operations center of the command post that have taken a look at that episode, and have commented that it is strikingly similar in nature," he said.

Beyond that, though, they had little to say. Police on Wednesday expressed growing frustration over the case, which they said remains full of contradictions and confusion.

"We have been challenged to try and find evidence and facts to support Julia's story," Johnson said. "The story doesn't add up. The whereabouts of Sky are not known. The mother's story is falling apart day to day, and her lack of cooperation so far in regard to providing more information proactively and submitting to a polygraph doesn't help."

Police were able to determine Wednesday that the car was not out of gas, Johnson said. "What I can tell you from today is that there was a sufficient amount of gas in that vehicle to run for a considerable distance," he said. "What we need to consider, though, is whether or not there may have been another mechanical problem with the car that made it stop, and I don't have the answer to that yet."

He said police also are puzzled by Biryukova's Facebook page, which features dozens of pictures of her daughter and only one or two of her son. "It's unusual, I guess, at first glance to consider the fact that a mother of two children would only have a predominantly one-sided view of her family on Facebook," he said. "That seems odd to us."

Biryukova's estranged husband, Solomon Metalwala, who had been locked in a custody dispute with his wife over both Sky and their 4-year-old daughter, took a polygraph test again Wednesday after an earlier examination, administered when he was stressed and fatigued, proved inconclusive, police said.

Johnson said several other people close to the family are also being questioned.

But the search effort has hit nothing but dead ends, he said. Wooded areas near the car's route and the family's apartment in Redmond have produced no firm clues; search-and-rescue dogs found the boy's scent in the car but not in the surrounding area.

"The search-and-rescue personnel that were on scene the morning of this event told us that one possible explanation for the lack of scent leading away from the car was that someone took him out of the car, placed him in another car, and left the area," Johnson said.

"We want to believe Julia," he said. "We want to help her find her missing child, and we want her cooperation to do that. And at this point, the information that she's given us has been problematic and has created more questions than answers."

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-- Kim Murphy in Seattle

Photo: Sky Metalwala with his mother, Julia Biryukova. Credit: Bellevue Police Department/Associated Press

 
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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal


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