One month after an imposter falsely claimed to be the missing Timmothy Pitzen, the eighth anniversary of the Illinois boy’s 2011 disappearance weighs heavily on his desperate relatives, who see in their pain a chance to advocate for families of all missing kids.
“My mother and I wanted to tell the ladies … who reported the imposter that we appreciate that they said something,” Timmothy’s aunt Kara Jacobs tells PEOPLE. “So many times in our lives we see something and we don’t know what we should do. But they did exactly what they should do. They saw something that was off, and they reported it.”
“Sometimes we all go through our own lives so consumed with our own thoughts and feelings that we don’t look around and see who might need help or is hurting,” she says.
Timmothy was 6 years old when, on May 11, 2011, his mother Amy — Jacob’s sister — checked him out of kindergarten in Aurora, Illinois, without telling her husband and the boy’s father, Jim. Mother and son went to a zoo and then spent the next two nights at nearby indoor water-park resorts, keeping Jim at bay but making reassuring phone calls to police and Jim’s brother to say they were fine, according to authorities.
Three days later, on May 14, an employee of the Rockford Inn motel found Amy dead in her room with self-inflicted slashes on her wrists and neck. She left a suicide note stating that Timmothy was “safe” with others who would care for him, adding, “You will never find him.”
So far, no one has.
Amy, 42, struggled with depression, had tried twice earlier to take her own life, and was in a marriage — her fourth — whose growing tensions would eventually lead to talk of divorce. But after resisting the urge to become a parent, she had gotten pregnant when married to Jim. He hadn’t expected to be a father after being told that treatment for a bout with lymphoma likely made him sterile.
Amy “all of a sudden felt that she wanted this child more than anything,” says Jacobs. “From the time Tim was born he was the absolute center of her life.”
“Not only does the family believe he’s alive, but every single law enforcement agency that has looked into this believes he is alive,” she says.
“Whoever does have him, they know something, clearly,” Jacobs says. “I would want whoever’s holding him to know that whatever Amy said about Jim or about their life or about Tim’s safety is misguided. Jim deserves the chance to be a father to his own child. They had no more or less marital problems than almost every other couple in this country, and Jim does not deserve what happened.”
The hoax that briefly elevated the family’s hopes unfolded on April 3, when a young man on the street in Newport, Kentucky, allegedly told strangers he’d been kidnapped and held for years by two men from whom he’d escaped. He gave Timmothy Pitzen as his name.
DNA later identified him as 23-year-old Brian Rini, recently freed from an Ohio prison after serving time for burglary and vandalism, and who authorities said had previously lied about being a victim of sex trafficking. He told authorities he’d learned about the Pitzen case from an episode of ABC’s 20/20. He was charged with making false statements to a federal agent.
Jim and the two families of Timmothy’s parents retreated to their prior heartbreak.
“My son is still out there somewhere needing to come home to his family,” Jim told PEOPLE.
Jacobs, a mother of two daughters, says she too has struggled with depression: “The entire month of May is difficult. Amy’s birthday is May 3. The day she took Timmothy is May 11. And the day she gave him away and committed suicide is, of course, Friday the 13th.”
“My mother goes to my sister’s grave on all those occasions. In the beginning we would bake a cake for Timmothy, and my daughters would write notes to him about what they might say if he were there. As time goes by, sometimes the best you can do is try to live those days as normal as possible, or we just go insane. The question of why — why, why, why would she do this, and where is he — they just play in our heads over and over again, and sometimes you just have to turn it off.”
“The only thing we keep thinking about is what can we do to make the best of this situation,” she says. “What can we do to not only highlight Tim’s case, but to highlight other missing children and to continue to spark the conversation in our country about other missing kids and how to help.”
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The experience also allows her to talk about suicide prevention.
“Anybody who is contemplating suicide, please get help,” says Jacobs. Amy “would never ask for help. She wouldn’t admit that she was hurting. She didn’t want to be that person, and part of getting better is admitting that you need help and telling other people that you need help. Problems never go away until you address them.”
As for what she’d tell Timmothy about his mom, she’d say “she loved him more than her own life.”
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.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “home” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
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