Jim Pitzen isn't giving up his dream of a reunion with the son who disappeared at age 6 in 2011
Dad Jim Pitzen had been down this road before. He knew he had to keep his perspective after hearing from a detective last Wednesday that someone claiming to be his son Timmothy, who vanished at age 6 in 2011, had been found.
But his heart leapt ahead of his head. Almost instantly, he began to imagine the days soon to come with the lost boy who now would be 14. Enrolling him in school. Teaching him to shave. Getting him started on driving lessons.
“I’ve got to get him stable and back to trusting people,” Pitzen, 47, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue.
His dream was not to be. By Thursday afternoon, DNA testing revealed the young man to be an imposter who claimed to be a kidnapping victim and used Timmothy’s name only after hearing about the boy’s case on ABC’s 20/20.
The young man found on the streets of Newport, Kentucky, was revealed to be Brian Rini, a 23-year-old ex-con recently paroled in Ohio after serving time for burglary and vandalism, said authorities. Twice previously he’d falsely claimed to be a victim of child sex trafficking, according to a criminal complaint charging him with making false statements to a federal agent.
• For more about Jim Pitzen’s search for his son and how he holds onto hope they’ll be together again, subscribe now to PEOPLE or pick up this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday.
In the hours before that hoax was revealed, hopes had run high.
Timmothy had last been seen on surveillance video May 13, 2011, two days after his mom, Amy, unexpectedly arrived to check him out of kindergarten in Aurora, Illinois, citing a family emergency.
Jim grew frantic when, over the next 24 hours, he couldn’t reach his wife of seven years, who presumably was traveling with their only child. Amy struggled with mental illness and had been prescribed medication for depression, Jim knew, and friction in the marriage had led to talk of divorce. Jim initially thought maybe he’d made her mad again, and she would return.
She didn’t. Police found Amy dead by suicide on May 14, 2011, in a Rockford, Illinois, motel room. Timmothy was nowhere to be found. But in her final note, Amy wrote that he was “safe” with others, adding ominously, “You will never find him.”
The years since have led Aurora police to chase tips that number “several hundred, possibly into the thousand range,” says Aurora police Det. Lee Catavu, who has been on the case from the start.
This one felt totally different. “Usually we get sightings, or people who think they saw him, or have theories,” he says. “We had never had anyone identify themselves as Timmothy.”
• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.
In most of those other instances, “we’ll just explore the tip or the sighting and kind of vet it before we approach the family,” Catavu says. “We don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up or take a toll on their emotions.”
But Jim needed to know about this one, Catavu knew.
For 24 excruciating hours, Jim retreated to wait for information while Catavu and another detective drove five hours from Aurora to Kentucky, to assist local police.
“The idea that we actually might be able to successfully reunite this boy with this family, that feeling is indescribable, especially after all these years,” says Catavu. “But unfortunately, it turned out not to be.”
A heartbroken Jim says he was “angry, upset.” He adds: “Why would somebody portray himself as somebody he’s not?”
He’s now been apart from Timmothy for longer than they were together. But Jim is not giving up hope of a reunion, he says.
“My son is still out there somewhere needing to come home to his family,” he says.
Anyone with information about Timmothy or any other missing child is urged to alert the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at 1-800-THE LOST.