When a young man found wandering the streets of Newport, Kentucky identified himself to police as missing child Timmothy Pitzen, many were hopeful that the sad story of Pitzen, a six-year-old boy who disappeared in 2011 after being kidnapped by his mother, would have a happy ending. But in a heartbreaking turn of events, DNA testing determined that the man was not Pitzen, leaving the Pitzen family shattered and still searching for answers.
On Friday morning, it was reported that the man who claimed to be Pitzen was actually Brian Michael Rini, a 23-year-old convicted felon who had just served 14 months out of an 18-month sentence in an Ohio prison for burglary and vandalism. Rini was accused of impersonating a prospective home buyer so he could gain access to a newly renovated model home and throw a party there, leaving thousands of dollars in damages. While it’s unclear what Rini’s motives were or how he found out about the Pitzen case, the sad turn of events has left the law enforcement officials on the case and the Pitzen family heartbroken.
Six-year-old Pitzen was first reported missing in May 2011, after his mother Amy Fry-Pitzen pulled him out of school, citing a family emergency. He was last seen at a water park in Illinois with his mother. A few days after Pitzen’s disappearance, Fry-Pitzen took her own life in a motel room. Her body was found with a note saying that while Timmothy was safe with loved ones, authorities would “never find him.”
Although sightings of Pitzen have been reported over the years, there had been no sign of him until it was reported on Wednesday that a young man claiming to be him had been found wandering the streets. The young man told authorities that he had been kept for years in a series of motel rooms by two “bodybuilder-type” men. He claimed to have escaped a Red Roof Inn and ran across a bridge to the Kentucky town of Newport, where he appeared disheveled and told residents he just wanted to go home.
Sadly, it is not uncommon for people to impersonate missing children. The 2012 documentary The Imposter, for instance, recounts the strange case of Frederic Bourdin, a French-Algerian man who, in the 1990s, claimed to be a missing Texas boy named Nicholas Barclay. For five months, Bourdin lived with the Barclay family after convincing them that he was Nicholas, despite having a different eye color than the boy and a foreign accent.
Dr. Gail Saltz, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at New York Presbyterian Hospital who has not assessed Rini, told CNN there are a number of reasons why a man may want to impersonate a missing child. “A young adult may be feeling lost, maybe feeling like he doesn’t have anybody or anything, and having a fantasy that he could be wanted, looked for, be rescued and be taken care of by family,” she said.
Yet Rini’s false claims have had a devastating impact on the Pitzen family. “It’s like reliving that day all over again,” Kara Jacobs, Timmothy’s aunt, told the New York Times. “And Timmothy’s father is devastated, once again.”