The disappointing news was the latest blow for the family of Timmothy Pitzen, the Illinois boy who disappeared at age 6 with his mother in 2011.
A person claiming to be Timmothy appeared this week before police, but federal authorities said DNA test results showed otherwise.
“It's devastating. It’s like reliving that day, all over again,” the boy’s maternal aunt, Kara Jacobs, said at a news conference Thursday after learning about the development. “Timmothy's father is devastated once again.”
Timmothy disappeared nearly eight years ago after his mother pulled him out of school early and took him for a road trip. They were last seen in May 2011 at a Wisconsin water park.
Three days later, the boy’s mother, Amy Fry-Pitzen, was found dead from an apparent suicide in an Illinois motel room. Police said she left behind a note saying her son was safe, but would never be found.
On Wednesday, a person claiming to be Timmothy appeared in Kentucky and told police he had just escaped a pair of kidnappers. A DNA test concluded the individual was not Timmothy but 23-year-old Brian Michael Rini.
“It's been awful,” Timmothy's maternal grandmother, Alana Anderson, told reporters outside her Antioch, Illinois, home. “We’ve been on tenterhooks, hopeful and frightened. It’s just been exhausting.”
Authorities were weighing whether Rini will face charges, but Timmothy’s aunt refused to call what happened a hoax.
“I don't think anything involving a child is a hoax,” Jacobs said. “I would reserve all judgement and pray for the young man involved.”
Anderson agreed. She said despite her disappointment, she felt sympathy for Rini.
“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, and hope they can find his family,” she said.
Both women said they now return to “ground zero” in their search for Timmothy. But they hope the renewed attention will raise awareness about the case and eventually lead to new clues.
"We know that you are out there somewhere, Tim. And we will never stop looking for you, praying for you and loving you," Jacobs said.