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Solomon Metalwala remembers the moment three years ago when his world changed forever.

It was shortly before 11 a.m. on Nov. 6 when police knocked on the door of his Kirkland home to tell him that his 2-year-old son, Sky Elijah Metalwala, was missing.

The boy had reportedly been left alone in a disabled car by the side of a road in Bellevue while his mother, Metalwala’s estranged wife, went in search of gasoline with the couple’s daughter, according to police.

When she returned, the boy was gone, Julia Biryukova told police.

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Despite a massive search, an intensive police investigation and national media coverage, no sign of Sky has ever been found.

On Thursday, the anniversary of Sky’s disappearance, Bellevue police sent out a news release with a time-progressed photograph showing what Sky might look like at age 5 and reiterating that the investigation is still active and open.

“It is still hard to believe it’s real,” said Solomon Metalwala. “I think about it, I pray about it, every single day.”

Sky’s disappearance was reported just days after his parents finished an 11-hour mediation session over child custody that was meant to bring to an end their contentious divorce proceedings and hours after his mother sought to withdraw from the mediated agreement.

She said she did not want Metalwala to be able to see his children, his attorney said.

Metalwala, 39, filed for divorce on June 4, 2010, and the proceedings were bitter and punctuated by accusations on both sides. Both sought protective orders against each other and both were awarded partial custody of the two children.

Biryukova told police that Sky was sick on Nov. 6, 2011, and that she was on her way from her apartment in Redmond to a hospital in Bellevue when the car she was driving ran out of gas.

She claimed she took the couple’s 4-year-old daughter with her but left Sky asleep in his car seat when she walked to a Chevron about a mile away for some gas, police said.

When she returned an hour or so later, the boy was gone, she told police.

Almost immediately, police began to punch holes in her story.

The car still had gas in the tank and was not in any way disabled, police said.

Other strange tidbits followed. Her social-media accounts, for example, had numerous pictures of her daughter, but few of her son. Police also discovered that she left the children alone at home for hours and was herself reclusive.

Sky was last seen by a neighbor two weeks before he was reported missing, police said.

Biryukova gave police access to the car, her computer and her apartment, but declined after the first day to be interviewed by police or to take a polygraph, police said.

Mike Johnson, who is now a deputy chief with the department, said at a news conference three years ago that Biryukova’s story “doesn’t add up.”

“We have been challenged to try and find evidence and facts to support Julia’s story,” he said. “You’re on the way to the hospital, why would you leave your kid in the car? It certainly is suspicious.”

Police, however, declined to label Biryukova a suspect or even a person of interest. They also made what they described as a “strategic decision” not to seek to have her charged with child endangerment for leaving the boy alone in the car.

On Thursday, Bellevue police spokesman Seth Tyler explained the reasons behind that call.

“We would have to prove that we believe she, in fact, left Sky alone in the vehicle,” he said.

And if police were to prove that, it could preclude them from later seeking murder charges if Sky’s body were to be found and evidence showed he had not been in the car, Tyler said.

“It’s always frustrating when there is a case that is open for so long, but it’s still an active case. We follow up on every lead and we never lose hope,” he said. “We were recently able to file charges on a 34-year-old murder case. We don’t close them until they’re solved.”

Tyler said Biryukova remains in the area, but police have not approached her since being warned off by her attorney.

Efforts to reach her by phone were not successful.

Metalwala was eventually granted custody of the couple’s daughter, who had been taken in by Child Protective Services after her brother’s disappearance.

He said the little girl, now 7, is smart, adventurous and engaged. She’s doing well in school, loves to read and doesn’t seem to have memories about what happened to her brother.

But Metalwala expects that could change as she grows up.

He still hands out fliers about his son’s disappearance and participates in a campaign to have up-to-date photographs and ID cards taken for children.

Metalwala, who has not spoken to his ex-wife since Sky went missing, believes that his child is still alive. He theorizes that he was sold to a family that wanted a child.

He also believes that he may one day be reunited with his son.

“I would be one of the happiest people in the world when he is found,” he said.

Bellevue police are asking anyone with information on Sky’s whereabouts to call 425- 577-5656.

Christine Clarridge can be reached at cclarridge@seattletimes.com. Information from news researcher Miyoko Wolf and The Seattle Times archives is included in this story.