On the morning of November 6, 2011, 2-year-old Sky Elijah Metalwala disappeared. His mother claimed he was sick, and so his mother put him and his older sister in the car to go to the nearby hospital. She claimed that along the way she ran out of gas and walked away to get help. When she returned about an hour and a half later, her son was gone.
The situation was quickly doubted by police, because her car had enough gas in its tank and was in total working order. Her unlikely description of events shared a lot of similarities with an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit that had been on TV the night before.
And, upon further investigation, she had recently decided to withdraw from a mediated custody agreement in a nasty divorce with Sky's father. He has been very cooperative in the investigation, but not Sky's mother. So far, however, no arrests have been made and Sky has never been found.
BACKGROUND AND DIVORCE
Solomon Metalwala immigrated to the U.S. from Pakistan, and Julia Biryukova came from Ukraine, where she claimed that as a childhood punishment, she was subjected to shock therapy in mental hospitals, and frequent beatings from her parents. She claims this had a serious effect on her self-esteem later in life. She met Solomon when he was running a convenience store when she was 15 years old.
Though she was only 15, and a student at Bellevue High School, Solomon invited her to a party, and the rest is history. They stated dating, she began to work at his family's restaurant, and by 1999 when she finished high school, they bought a condominium in Bellevue to live in.
For the most part, they got along well. They worked nicely together and had a lot of similar interests. However, there was certainly some kinks in their relationship. Once, police were called when they were arguing so loudly at a gas station about their evening plans that it caused concern.
Julia would later tell a clinical psychologist that she believed her boyfriend was "very controlling", and that she was emotionally dependent on him. But in 2003, 6 years after meeting, they married in his mother's kitchen. She claimed she had only done it because his family threatened her with imminent deportation if she didn't, for reasons unknown.
In 2005, Solomon converted to Christianity and the couple began attending church. Julia said that her in-laws blamed her for his religion switch, further straining their relationship. On top of this, they were experiencing financial troubles, and had just given birth to a daughter, Maile, born in 2007. When the Great Recession began in 2008, they were still able to buy a home and continue making mortgage payments on the house they already had.
In 2009, their second child was born, a son they named Sky. While pregnant, she was prescribed antidepressants, but she said she didn't need them. Despite making it through the immediate effects of the recession, at this time, things were looking bad. Lenders were foreclosing on the family's properties and they were behind on many of their bills. They had to move yet again, out of their new house and back into the smaller condominium.
It was around this time that Julia's psychological issues began to rear their head, according to Solomon. She would eat outside and sleep on the floor to account for her obsession of keeping the home clean. They were cited a few times for violating noise regulations with late night cleaning, like vacuuming after 11pm.
They weren't exactly rock star parents, either. When Sky was 2 months old, they left him in the Target parking lot for almost an hour on a day when the temperature was below freezing. They were arrested and charged with reckless endangerment, but they argued they'd only been inside for 20 minutes. (Security cameras begged to differ). They agreed to take parenting classes, and charges were dropped.
In 2010, on Julia's 29th birthday, she was briefly committed to a mental hospital after telling her husband that she dreamed of killing their children. During that stay, the first of 3, she was diagnosed with OCD, but no one believed she was unfit to be a parent. Shortly after she got out this time, Solomon filed for divorce. She was committed again soon after, but there aren't a lot of details about it.
She was committed for a 3rd time while they were separated after texting Solomon that she wanted to commit suicide. She later said this was just to get attention, but she was found to have a Global Assessment of Functioning Score of only 15, suggesting she was a danger to herself and others. But, it increased to a 40 by the time she was released.
After that release, Solomon and his brother took Julia to a Medical Center where she checked in voluntarily. While there, their condo was foreclosed upon. Solomon and the children moved into his parents home.
The divorce was nasty. Julia argued that Solomon had been abusive and she was terrified for her life. He argued that she was lying and her mental problems left her unstable and an incapable wife and mother. There was one claim that Solomon had injured his daughter , but it was ruled unfounded. Despite 3 involuntary committals and 1 voluntary one in just recent history, Julia was awarded custody and Solomon was prohibited from seeing the children for a year while everything was investigated and worked out. (Not to say that people with mental health conditions can't be excellent parents, but this was a situation where custody almost certainly should have gone to the father.)
After investigating, in September of 2010, somehow, Julia was awarded full custody. Solomon had no visitation rights and Julia refused to let their father see them. He continued to press the issue. She offered to forego his alimony and child support payments if he let her move away to Arizona with the kids, but he refused. He just wanted to see them.
The disputes continued into November of 2011, and the couple was ordered mediation to resolve the issues, a session that was reportedly successful. The 2 eventually agreed that Julia would have custody of the kids, but Solomon could have full visitation. However, days later, Julia called her lawyer and said she felt pressured to do it, and now wanted to void the decision.
So, the stage is set for the next act. On November 6, 2011, Julia said Sky woke up sick in their apartment. She loaded he and his sister up in their car and headed to a Medical Center in Bellevue. On the way, she said she ran out of gas.
She parked on the side of the road, leaving Sky strapped in his car seat, while she took Maile, her older daughter, to find some help. She reached a gas station an hour later, finally to her destination. But, instead of, you know, purchasing gas, she called a friend and asked to be picked up and driven back to her car.
She said once she returned to her car, with a convenient witness to say she was at the gas station and to testify to her behavior when she got back to the car, that Sky was gone. She called the police, and they called Solomon.
Police immediately began to search, and as they did, they became very suspicious of Julia's account. Her car worked just fine, and had plenty of gas in the tank where it wouldn't have stopped on the side of the road. In her search for help, she did not ask anyone in the houses she passed while walking for an hour and a half.
Further, her wallet, purse, and phone were at home. She had left to go to the hospital with her sick kid, but didn't bring any of her personal items? When questioned about all of these inconsistencies, she plead the 5th and refused to take a lie detector test. However, she did allow them to search the car, her house, and her computer. There was no sign of Sky anywhere.
There was some question as to if Sky had ever even been in the car that morning. Julia had left her car sitting on the side of the road for over an hour, and motorists who passed by did not note anything unusual. Now, its not like you'd 100% be able to see a kid in the backseat when flying past them on the street, but at least one person may have noticed something was off. Additionally, no one in Julia's apartment complex had seen Sky for weeks, and Solomon was not aware of anyone seeing him since a doctor's visit in April. However, Maile told police that her brother had been in the car that morning.
It got a bit more suspicious when police learned that an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit had aired the night before titled "Missing Pieces", about a young couple who claims their baby son was abducted when their parked car was stolen. The rerun was on the night before Sky's disappearance, and the similarities were extreme. Solomon said that his wife loved that show.
Julia's Facebook page also aroused some suspicion. She had posted a lot of pictures with her daughter, but none with her son. She had also been posting to pages looking for sugar daddies. Quickly, investigators realized that Julia's story was pretty much entirely fabricated. However, even though Julia admitted at least to leaving her son in the car unattended for an hour and a half, she wasn't even charged with child endangerment.
Police later said it was a "strategic decision"; if, down the line, they were able to prove that Julia had abducted or killed her son, it would be contradictory if they also charged her for leaving him in the car for too long. Both crimes can't exist, and they wanted to go for the bigger one.
Julia first spoke with the media 2 weeks after her son's disappearance, via email correspondence with ABC News. She said that she had no idea where her son was, and that her ex-husband was a "sadistic Muslim Pakistani" who was lying about his involvement. However, the network was never able to 100% confirm the email they were connecting with was Julia, though Solomon said it was how she talked.
The Department of Social and Health Services removed Maile from the house and placed her into the foster care system. Solomon got twice-weekly visitation while he petitioned for custody of his daughter. He eventually got custody of Maile, and the couple's divorce was granted in January of 2012.
Around the time of the 4th anniversary of Sky's disappearance, it was revealed that Julia had remarried the year before and had another child with her new husband. The social workers were trying to have the baby removed from her care, given her history. They were concerned about her OCD diagnosis and past hospitalizations, following a complaint from the doctor who delivered her child. On top of that, her new husband and the infant's father was a convicted felon and had previously had a child taken from his care in Florida, which didn't really bode well for the health and wellbeing of the baby.
The month the couple married, Julia reported him to the police for assaulting her. She got a no-contact order, and he was put in jail, but she visited him regularly and gave birth while he was behind bars.
In 2019, Julia testified in court and accused her husband of violating the no-contact order (even though she, herself, continued visiting him regularly after getting the no contact order. He was not allowed to be alone with their new son without someone else present.
Still, police believe that she knows where Sky is, and is responsible for his disappearance, and likely death.
During initial searches, no trace of the 2-year-old was found in the surrounding area. They believe it was unlikely that he wandered off on his own. Without any new information, and with Julia's story so deeply unlikely, all theories of Sky's disappearance assume malice on Julia's part. If he is alive (and that is a big if) it is believed that she let someone take him that day.
Solomon believes that his son is alive, but maybe no longer in the U.S. He recalled that, once, Julia's estranged father came from Ukraine to visit. He wondered if the man could have taken him back to Julia's home country with him. A few years later, Solomon admitted he didn't know how that could have logistically even happened, but he was probably just thinking out loud to make sense of everything.
Solomon's attorney believes, absolutely, that Sky was never even in the car that morning. And, given her OCD and obsession with cleaning, there would never be any evidence found within the apartment. Meaning, Sky was probably given away, abducted, or killed before the made-up trip to the hospital, but the only one who would ever be able to confirm or deny it is Julia.
But unlike Solomon, the attorney doesn't believe that Sky is alive. "Solomon doesn't like when I say that, but that's what I think," she said. She believes that Julia is responsible for her death, but does allow herself to consider the possibility that it could have been a result of negligence and not an act of brutal malice against her child. Perhaps his death was accidental, and his disappearance was a cover up for the mistake.
This case seems like such a justice system failure from the outside, though I'm sure there was more nuance than what meets the eye. Were the 2 of them perfect parents? No. They fought regularly and aggressively, and had at least 1 instance of neglecting their child in the past. But from the accounts provided, Julia was struggling. She was unable to take care of herself, let alone her children. She seemed to lie compulsively and place blame on others for her misdeeds. Not to fault her for her mental health issues, but she was clearly not capable of providing a safe, stable home for her children. But when the separation arrived, she was the one who got custody.
(This common practice is often seen as a "men's rights" issue, even though this is a point feminists will argue for men in every time. The fact that men are the ones who take the hit here doesn't mean it isn't a feminist issue. Women win custody more often than men, even in glaringly obvious cases, because women are societally seen as more nurturing and loving. Men are often seen as "babysitting" when they're watching the child. Men who are closely involved in their children's lives at an equal clip are often seen as less of a man. Toxic masculinity is a feminist issue. And, even though it is men who are hurt by it, it is because of the societal expectations put on women and mothers. All of this to say, if there are areas you feel like are cries for "mEnS RiGhtS!" then you might just be a feminist. Soapbox, exited.)
Anyway - this could have been avoided if Sky went into Solomon's care. Julia was clearly an unsafe choice, and Sky is more than likely dead because of it. No one knows what happened to him, and I can only hope he went peacefully instead of realizing that the person who was supposed to love him and care for him was going to hurt him.
I am curious if an update will come in later years from Maile. Though she was only 4 years old at the time, as she grows up, perhaps she can provide more insight into what happened in their home, and if Sky was truly in the car that day. Of course, if her mother pressured her to lie, her childhood brain might not be able to uncover and remember what truly happened. But maybe she will remember some more information about she and her brother's youth that could help solve the case. Because for now, police forewent a slam dunk case for negligence for the "bigger" charge, but they have never brought it against her.
This case is really layered and sad, and I truly hope that it gets officially solved one day. A 2-year-old is missing, and likely lost his life, and that is heartbreaking and deserves justice.