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Originally published November 8, 2011 at 8:26 PM | Page modified November 9, 2011 at 11:05 AM

Missing-boy mystery: Police say 'nothing about the story adds up'

For Bellevue police, most of the questions focus on the account of Julia Biryukova, who says her 2-year-old son, Sky Metalwala, disappeared after she left him sleeping in her disabled car on a Bellevue street.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Editor's note

Commenting has been disabled because of the sensitive nature of this story

Police say questions over the baffling disappearance of a 2-year-old boy reportedly left by his mother in an unlocked car Sunday continue to far outweigh the answers.

Most of the questions focus on the account of Julia Biryukova, who says her son disappeared after she left him sleeping in her disabled car on a Bellevue street.

Why would a woman who had previously been cited for leaving the boy alone in a car do it again, reportedly while driving the sick toddler to a hospital?

Why did her car, which she said ran out of gas, start up when examined by police?

And why haven't police found any relatives, friends or neighbors who recall seeing the boy in the two weeks before he vanished?

"Nothing about the story adds up," Bellevue Police Maj. Mike Johnson told reporters on Tuesday. "Something else happened."

Faced with what they described as a "very convoluted" investigation, police say they now believe Sky Elijah Metalwala may have been a victim of foul play.

Police stressed that no suspects have been identified. However, detectives appear to be focusing on the boy's mother, who was embroiled in a contentious custody battle with her estranged husband.

Biryukova, 30, told police she last saw Sky on Sunday morning when her car ran out of gas in the 2600 block of 112th Avenue Northeast in Bellevue.

She told police she was driving the ill boy from her Redmond home to Overlake Hospital Medical Center in Bellevue.

According to police, Biryukova said she left Sky sleeping in his car seat in the unlocked car and walked with her 4-year-old daughter to a Chevron gas station about a mile away.

When she returned to the car more than an hour later, Sky was gone.

Police said there was no sign of forced entry into the car, nor was there a gas can or any indication of car trouble.

At a news conference Tuesday at the Bellevue Police Department, spokeswoman Officer Carla Iafrate said Biryukova and the child's father have been cooperating with investigators.

Biryukova gave police permission to search her car and her Redmond apartment, according to Iafrate. It's at the home and surrounding area that investigators have been focusing their attention in ever-widening circles, she said.

A woman who answered the phone at the office of Biryukova's attorney, Veronica Freitas, said she would not be returning any media calls.

Iafrate said police are assisting Biryukova with housing because the search of her home is ongoing.

She said Biryukova is not in custody and is free to come and go.

Biryukova has declined police requests to submit to a polygraph examination, Iafrate said.

Iafrate said the missing boy does not have a passport. Iafrate said she did not known whether Biryukova, a native of Ukraine, has a valid passport.

She also said that one witness told police she had stopped by the abandoned car within an hour after Biryukova said she had parked it at the side of the road, and found it empty.

The boy's 4-year-old sister, who has been placed in foster care by Child Protective Services, has also been interviewed by a detective.

On Sunday, the little girl told police that her brother had been in the car with them that day. Iafrate said the girl also was interviewed on Monday, but that Iafrate did not know whether any details had changed.

Biryukova's estranged husband, Solomon Metalwala, 36, took a polygraph test on Monday.

The results were inconclusive, which is not uncommon, Iafrate said.

"He was so emotionally drained and tired that the police said any result would be inconclusive. They said, 'Go home and get some sleep and come back,' " said Metalwala's attorney, Leslie Clay Terry III.

Metalwala questions his wife's account and believes that there is "something missing" from her story.

"If you find out what's missing, it will lead you to our child," he said.

The toddler's disappearance came only four days after his parents endured 11 hours of mediation aimed at ending a bitter divorce and custody battle. The compromise agreement, signed by both parties, stipulated that Biryukova would have custody of the children and the father would have visits.

But, according to Terry, Biryukova did not want her children to see their father.

According to court documents, Metalwala filed for divorce on June 4, 2010, and the proceedings have been punctuated by accusations of violence and mental instability.

Each has filed for protective orders against the other, and each has had custody of the two children at times.

Both parents were previously charged with reckless endangerment in 2009 for leaving Sky, then 3 months old, in their car for about an hour while they shopped at a Target store on a 27-degree day. The case was dismissed in February of this year after both took parenting classes and completed community service, court documents show.

Biryukova had no additional adult criminal history, but was charged with second-degree theft as a juvenile when she was 16 after she was caught stealing clothes from the Bellevue Square Nordstrom store, according to juvenile-court records.

Court documents say she was stopped by a loss-prevention officer, who recovered six tank tops, three skirts, three pairs of jeans and a dress, together valued at $587.90, that Biryukova had stuffed into old shopping bags.

"Julia admitted to the theft, saying that she did it because she didn't think it was fair that her friends stole and had all these new clothes that they didn't pay for and she wanted her clothes for free; she also said it was peer pressure," a Bellevue officer wrote in a police report.

The case was dismissed after Biryukova completed 24 hours of community service and six months of community supervision, court records show.

During Tuesday's news conference, Iafrate was asked whether Biryukova could face charges of reckless endangerment for leaving Sky in the car on Sunday. She said police are primarily concerned with finding him.

"Right now we're concerned with the location of Sky," she said.

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983or cclarridge@seattletimes.com

Seattle Times staff reporter Sara Jean Green and news researchers Gene Balk and Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report, which includes information from The Associated Press.

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