By DAN SEWELL and DON BABWIN Associated Press
CINCINNATI (AP) — A young man’s claim to be an Illinois boy who disappeared under tragic circumstances eight years ago was disproved by DNA tests and pronounced a hoax Thursday, dashing hopes that the baffling case had finally been solved.
For a day and a half, a breakthrough seemed to be at hand when a young man found wandering the streets of Newport, Kentucky, on Wednesday identified himself as 14-year-old Timmothy Pitzen and told police he had just escaped from two men who had held him captive for seven years.
Timmothy disappeared in 2011 at age 6, apparently sent into hiding by his mother just before she took her own life. Timmothy’s family was cautiously hopeful over Wednesday’s news, as were neighbors and others who have long wondered whether he is dead or alive.
But the FBI said Thursday afternoon that DNA tests determined the young man was not Timmothy.
Newport Police Chief Tom Collins identified him to ABC as Brian Rini of Medina, Ohio, a 23-year-old ex-convict. He was released from an Ohio prison less than a month ago after serving more than a year for burglary and vandalism.
Authorities did not say whether Rini would face charges over the alleged hoax or what his motive was.
“Law enforcement has not and will not forget Timmothy, and we hope to one day reunite him with his family. Unfortunately, that day will not be today,” FBI spokesman Timothy Beam said in a statement.
In Timmothy’s hometown of Aurora, Illinois, police Sgt. Bill Rowley said that over the years his department has received thousands of tips about Timmothy, including false sightings.
“We’re always worried about copycats, especially something that has a big national attention like this,” he said.
Timmothy’s family members said they were heartbroken at the latest twist.
“It’s devastating. It’s like reliving that day all over again, and Timmothy’s father is devastated once again,” said his aunt Kara Jacobs.
The boy’s grandmother Alana Anderson said: “It’s been awful. We’ve been on tenterhooks, hopeful and frightened. It’s just been exhausting.” She added, “I feel so sorry for the young man who’s obviously had a horrible time and felt the need to say he was somebody else.”
Timmothy vanished after his mother, Amy Fry-Pitzen, pulled him out of kindergarten early one day, took him on a two-day road trip to the zoo and a water park, and then killed herself at a hotel. She left a note saying that her son was safe with people who would love and care for him, and added: “You will never find him.”
Police have said she might have dropped the boy off with a friend, noting that his car seat and Spider-Man backpack were gone.
Timmothy’s grandmother said her daughter had fought depression for years and was having problems in her marriage to Timmothy’s father. News reports suggested she was afraid she would lose custody of the boy in a divorce because of her mental instability.
At Greenman Elementary after the boy’s disappearance, Timmothy’s schoolmates, teachers and parents tied hundreds of yellow ribbons around trees and signs. A garden was planted in his memory.
The brief but tantalizing possibility that the case had been solved generated excitement in Timmothy’s former neighborhood.
Pedro Melendez, who lives in Timmothy’s former home, didn’t know the boy but saved the concrete slab with his name, handprint and footprint etched in it when he redid the back patio. It is dated ’09.
Linda Ramirez, who lives nearby and knew the family, said she was “pretty excited” but didn’t “want to have false hopes.”
Rowley expressed hope that the flurry of activity and attention had renewed interest in the case.
“Perhaps, it has people looking at the case with new eyes,” the police sergeant said.
Babwin reported from Chicago. Associated Press reporters Carrie Antlfinger in Aurora, Caryn Rousseau in Chicago and Corey Williams in Detroit contributed.