The family of missing Aurora boy Timmothy Pitzen urged the public to "reserve all judgment and pray" for a man who falsely claimed he was the child who disappeared from the Illinois town more than seven years ago.
"Unfortunately this child is not our beloved Timmothy," Kara Jacobs, Timmothy's aunt, said. "We know you are out there somewhere Tim and we will never stop looking for you."
A person claiming to be Pitzen, who would now be 14 years old after he disappeared in 2011 at the age of 6, was actually a 23-year-old man from Ohio, police said Thursday.
"I feel so sorry for the young man who's obviously had a horrible time and felt the need to say he was someone else," Timmothy's grandmother Alana Anderson said. "And hope that they can find his family."
Investigators ran a DNA test on the person who appeared in the Cincinnati, Ohio, area on Wednesday. Authorities confirmed Thursday that results indicated "the person in question is not Timmothy Pitzen."
Newport, Kentucky police told an NBC affiliate station in the area that the person claiming to be Pitzen is actually 23-year-old Brian Michael Rini of Medina, Ohio.
NBC 5 Investigates has learned Rini was just released from an Ohio prison less than a month ago after serving time for burglary and vandalism. Rinni’s criminal record also includes an arrest and guilty verdict for passing bad checks, a probation violation, and a conviction for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.
His estranged brother, Jonathan Rini, said Brian stopped getting treatment for his mental health issues.
"I'm not surprised, I mean, he's nuts," he said. Jonathan Rini added that he'd "tell the family I’m sorry for what he’s done."
Kara Jacobs said the development that Pitzen hadn't been found was "devastating."
"It's like reliving that day all over again," she said. "And Timmothy's father is devastated once again."
Police said an investigation into Timmothy's case remains ongoing.
"Although we are disappointed that this turned out to be a hoax, we remain diligent in our search for Timmothy, as our missing person's case remains unsolved," Aurora Sgt. Bill Rowley said in a statement.
Timmothy's disappearance has remained a mystery since Amy Fry Pitzen took her son out of school and traveled to multiple Midwest water parks before she was found dead of an apparent suicide in a Rockford motel room on May 14, 2011. A note left behind in the motel room said that Timmothy was safe and in someone's care, but that he would never be found.
"To be clear, 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," police said in their release.
The man claiming to be 14 years old was spotted standing near an intersection in Newport, Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, and told witnesses that he was the child missing from Illinois.
He said he had slipped away from two kidnappers who had held him for the past seven years, the police report on the incident states. He told investigators he had escaped an unknown Red Roof Inn, according to the police report, and "kept running across a bridge" into Kentucky.
"Timothy [sic] described the two kidnappers as two male, whites, body-builder type build," the police report states. "One had black curly hair, Mt. Dew shirt and jeans & has a spider web tattoo on his neck. The other was short in stature and had a snake tattoo on his arms."
The kidnappers' vehicle, according to the report, was described by Timmothy to officers as a newer model Ford SUV with unknown Wisconsin plates and a second row. The Ford is white with yellow transfer paint and a dent on the left back bumper, the report states.
All surrounding police agencies with Red Roof Inns in their jurisdictions were contacted and nothing was found, according to the report. The FBI confirmed he was in safe custody but did not give an update on his condition.
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Pitzen is the only child missing from west suburban Aurora.
Anderson said Wednesday she heard that a boy claiming to be her grandson was in a children’s hospital in Kentucky after escaping his captors.
“We never forgot, never stopped thinking about him everyday, stayed in touch with the police,” she said. “It just went cold, and I just prayed that when he was old enough that he would remember us and contact us — that was kind of the best I could hope for for a long time.”
The last time she saw her grandson he was just over 6 years old.
The last boost in the case came in 2014, when a woman in the northern Illinois town of Rockton contacted police saying she saw a boy that resembled Timmothy at her garage sale, according to the Chicago Tribune. The tip came after the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children released an age-progression image showing what Timmothy would have looked like at the age of 9. It remained unclear if the boy the woman saw was in fact Timmothy.
Fry Pitzen's cell phone, I-Pass and the clothing she was seen wearing on other surveillance videos, as well as Timmothy’s Spider Man backpack and his toys from the SUV, remained missing years after the boy disappeared, according to police.
In a press conference, Rowley said, despite the fact Pitzen was not found, the department is optimistic that the case is now so prominently back in public discussion.
“It created a renewed awareness in the case,” So I think that’s probably good, it’s good that it’s got people thinking about the case again, and perhaps has people looking at the case with new eyes.”
Rowley said he does not believe anyone has ever claimed to be Pitzen before.
“Over the years we’ve had, I would say, thousands of tips on where Timmothy may have been, or what may have happened to him and of course we diligently followed up on all of those,” he said.
Rowley also spoke briefly on the man authorities say claimed to be the missing boy.
“Folks who do things like this typically don’t get away with their actions,” he said. “I’m sure that if we follow this further we’re gonna see that the person down there is probably going to have some consequences for his actions down there—although I wouldn’t speak to that personally.”
Anyone with information about the case is being asked to call Aurora police at (630) 256-5000 or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at (800) 843-5678.