Authorities have not ruled out any theories as they continue searching for missing 2-year-old Sky Metalwala.
The investigation has also largely focused on the boy’s parents, Julia Biryukova and Solomon Metalwala, who were nearing the end of a bitter divorce and custody battle just weeks before their son disappeared.
This is the second story in a two-part series that examines the neglect and abuse the couple alleged against each other. The first part examined the parent’s contentious marital history.
While living in their Kirkland home, located in the South Rose Hill neighborhood, neighbors said the couple was very friendly.
“Solomon is a very kind man,” former neighbor Nicolas Collins told the Reporter. “Very soft spoken, what you see on TV is how he is.”
He said he would mostly speak with Solomon, who was often outside doing yard work. He also saw Biryukova on occasion taking her daughter for a walk.
“They had a new baby and it was summer so she was not very comfortable,” Collins recalled. “It was a stressful time but you deal with things. They had their moments when they were vocal but I haven’t had neighbors that haven’t had those times.”
But according to Biryukova, the couple’s marriage began to breakdown in 2009 when she learned of their financial issues.
“I learned about the extent of our debt from my husband when we were six months behind on paying our two mortgages, utilities, credit cards and all other bills,” she said in court documents. “This is the time when my husband’s anger and his true character began to show.”
Their Kirkland home was foreclosed in the fall of 2009 and they moved out. They then were forced to move back into the smaller Bellevue condo.
Solomon claimed in court documents that Biryukova had psychological issues, which led to the breakdown of their relationship.
In court records, Solomon said because Biryukova had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and bi-polar in 2009, “living with her was difficult before our separation.”
He described some “unusual things” he did to comply with the demands of her disease, including eating meals with his children outside his home to keep the apartment clean and sleeping on the living room carpet or in his car.
“I am not exaggerating when I state under oath that Julia cared more about cleaning a countertop than she did about feeding our daughter,” said Solomon. “The child was ignored, and it became a matter of great concern.”
After the foreclosure, the couple and their two children moved back to the condo in Bellevue where neighbors complained about issues related to Biryukova’s condition.
The general manager of the Astoria at Meydenbauer Bay Condominium Association, issued the couple a notice on June 29, 2009 stating they were in violation of noise regulations.
The notice stated that other residents were disturbed by vacuuming noise inside the couple’s unit between 11-11:20 p.m. on June 27, 2009. This was their third citation, adding up to $300.
Those around the couple had conflicting views of Biryukova’s condition, including her own psychiatrists.
Her first psychiatrist put Biryukova on anti-depressants during her pregnancy with Sky, despite her objections.
In court documents, Biryukova argued that her psychiatrist had a “history of prescribing powerful psychiatric medications to people who do not require them.”
Biryukova was also committed three times, twice involuntarily, for her mental-health issues.
Solomon stated that: “By March 2010, Julia would not leave the house on time to go anywhere. She was like a prisoner who locked herself into a cell block. She began to have dreams about killing our children, even telling me of her dreams about strangling our youngest child. This became very scary and I knew it was time I had to do something.”
Julia’s own mother, Nadia Biryukova, at one point believed that her daughter had serious issues: “Neither your husband nor I would like for you to live with us at your current conditions … All of us (your children including) are suffering from your abuse,” the documents continue.
But her mother would later state that Solomon “little by little, he convinced me that my daughter was sick.”
Other doctors would later disagree with the severity of her psychiatric issues.
Dr. Stephen a. Sholl, a clinical psychologist in Seattle, said in a July 2, 2010 statement: “Although Ms. Biryukova is dealing with a severe form of OCD, I do not believe that this interferes with her ability to be a compassionate, effective parent to her children.”
In court records filed on Sept. 23, 2010, Julia declares: “I do not suffer from severe OCD and I never have.”
A report provided to the court by a separate psychologist with 38 years experience found that Biryukova is “an intense young woman whose only interest is to provide a good life for her two children.”
The issues with Biryukova’s mental state came to a head on March 10, 2010 when the couple officially separated, thanks to an incident involving police.
According to a Bellevue police report, Biryukova made suicidal threats via text message to Solomon. He called police because she was home alone with 6-month-old Sky.
Biryukova wrote: “Please, please I’m begging with my whole heart help me find a peaceful way to die. I cannot live ANOTHER day and cause you, Maile and Sky anymore suffering. I’m dead inside anyway and have been dead for a long time. You will not miss me at all and Maile and Sky have the best daddy in the world so I know they will be okay …”
She admitted to police that she was suicidal, the report continued.
Biryukova later stated at a psychiatric facility that she threatened suicide to get her husband’s attention, the documents state. She was then involuntarily committed at Overlake Hospital and then Navos in West Seattle.
When she was admitted to Navos, she was found to have a Global Assesment of Functioning (GAF) score of 15. When she was released, she had a GAF score of 40.
GAF is a numerical scale from 1-100 used to assess psychological functioning of adults. A 15 meant that she was in danger of hurting herself or others; a 40 meant she has some impairment for daily activities.
Upon her discharge from Navos, her husband and his brother took her to the University of Washington Medical Center, where she was voluntarily admitted.
Solomon filed for divorce in June 2010.
During her stay at the UW, their Bellevue condo foreclosed and Solomon moved into his mother’s Kirkland home with the children.
Biryukova said that along with financial issues she had been the victim of domestic violence on three separate occasions.
Witnesses corroborated her accusations of domestic violence.
“Now, my fear is for my small children. And now Solomon is doing the same thing to our small children that he did to me, physically abuse them and try to control them,” said Biryukova in court documents.
Biryukova also accused Solomon of beating both children with a wooden spoon.
Sue Jewett, a lay pastor at City Church, stopped being the go-between for the couple because it became too difficult, the documents said.
The two women later claimed that they figured out why. After a November 2010 visit, “Sky had a bright red mark on his lower back, hip and upper buttocks,” said Jewett in the documents. “Julia noticed the injury when she put Sky in the bath shortly after he returned from visiting Solomon. A few days later, Maile independently told Julia and I that Solomon got mad at Sky because Sky was crying and he hit him.”
Jewett recorded brief conversations with their daughter, Maile, and also during custody exchanges. On one tape, Maile is heard describing how she, Sky and Julia were hit by Solomon whenever they were “bad” while they resided in their condominium.
“This little girl became so desperate for help during these painful transitions that she began praying to Jesus for relief, to no avail, when her father picked her up. Maile averred that she gets spanked on her buttocks, legs and stomach while her father tells her that he does not love her,” a psychiatrist testified.
Solomon claimed in court documents that the wooden spoon beatings are something from Julia’s past and that she beat the two children.
Overall, Child Protective Services (CPS) visited the family six times from late 2009 to late 2010, according to court documents.
An Aug. 27, 2010 CPS investigation determined that the allegations of abuse and neglect against Biryukova were unfounded.
Biryukova filed several protection orders against her ex-husband, but one stands out more than others.
On Dec. 19 of 2010, Biryukova alleged that Solomon committed sexual abuse against their daughter.
CPS found that the claims were unfounded and no charges were ever filed.
Despite the abuse allegations, Biryukova requested that Solomon be given custody of their daughter during a hearing that followed the disappearance of Sky.
Malie is currently in foster care until a hearing on Dec. 5.
CPS workers on the case also stated in court documents that “Maile was forensically interviewed and was able to provide a consistent and credible statement that the father inflicted the bruises on her back with a wooden spoon.”
The investigator continued, “the father denied hitting the child with a wooden spoon and this was confirmed with a polygraph test, however, when the father was asked if he had caused the bruising on Maile’s back the test was inconclusive.”
Biryukova also claims that Solomon abused her three times before their split.
Biryukova gained full custody of both children in September of 2010.
She posted on her Facebook: “Justice was served today. I am the PRIMARY PARENT for my babies! Hallelujah! My babies are happy and I am HAPPY! Thank you Veronica Freitas (Biryukova’s lawyer)!” on Sept. 22, 2010.
But sole custody only lasted until October before Sky went missing.
Two weeks before the disappearance of Sky, the couple had an 11-hour mediation session for custody of the two children. During the session the two sides agreed to some visitation rights for Solomon, but Biryukova called him later in an attempt to get out of the agreement.
Bellevue Police Major Mike Johnson told reporters that Biryukova acknowledged a history of leaving the children alone for extended periods of time. Court documents also show details of Solomon leaving the children home alone as well.
Police say they know whether the mother left her kids alone during the mediation but will not release that information.
In an attempt to regain sole custody, Biryukova offered to absolve her ex-husband of more than $2,000 in child and spousal support if she could take the children to Scottsdale, Ariz. He declined the offer.
During the investigation to find her son, Biryukova has received criticism for having very few photos of her son in the apartment or on her Facebook page.
Court documents also show a contentious battle over items, such as the couple’s camera, which Metalwala would not relinquish rights to.
Authorities have expressed frustration with Biryukova’s story of how her son went missing and unwillingness to speak to investigators or take a polygraph test.
They said Solomon has been cooperative, but will not release the results of a second polygraph test he took following his son’s disappearance.