CINCINNATI (AP) — A 23-year-old ex-convict accused of pulling a cruel hoax by pretending to be a long-missing Illinois boy was charged Friday with making false statements to authorities.
The FBI said the suspect had twice before made similar claims in which he falsely portrayed himself as a juvenile sex trafficking victim.
Brian Rini of Medina, Ohio, was jailed in Cincinnati on Thursday, a day after he identified himself to authorities as Timmothy Pitzen, who disappeared in 2011 at age 6. The FBI declared Rini’s story a hoax based on DNA testing.
The charge against Rini should send a message about the damage that making such false claims can do, said Benjamin Glassman, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Ohio.
“It’s not OK to do it because of the harm that it causes, the pain, for the family of that missing child,” Glassman said.
Glassman said authorities were skeptical early on of Rini’s claim because he refused to be fingerprinted.
More than 50 law enforcement and public health officials helped in the investigation, said Robert Brown, the FBI agent over the Louisville office.
“While this is not the results we had hoped for, the outpouring of victim, law enforcement and community support gives everyone hope that we’ll find Timmothy,” Brown said.
Rini appeared briefly in federal court Friday morning where the charges were explained to him. A detention hearing was set for Tuesday. A message was left with his public defender seeking comment.
Rini was found Wednesday in Newport, Kentucky, “wandering the street and looking confused and in need of assistance,” according to the six-page affidavit from FBI agent Mary Braun.
After identifying himself as Pitzen, Rini complained of abdominal pain and was taken to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Emergency Room, the affidavit said. Rini refused to be fingerprinted Wednesday and Thursday but agreed to a DNA test which on Thursday identified him as Rini, according to Braun.
Even after Rini was advised of his rights and warned against making false statements, he continued to insist he was Pitzen and that he had escaped from a hotel where he’d been forced to have sex with men against his will, the affidavit said.
Rini finally acknowledged his identity after being confronted with the DNA results, said he had watched a story about Pitzen on ABC’s “20/20” news program, and had wanted to get away from his family, according to Braun.
Rini said “he wished he had a father like Timmothy’s because if he went missing, his father would just keep drinking,” the affidavit said. A message was left with Rini’s father Friday.
An FBI investigation found that Rini had twice portrayed himself as a juvenile sex trafficking victim, and in each case was later identified after being fingerprinted, the affidavit said.
Rini was released from prison on probation less than a month ago after serving more than a year for burglary and vandalism.
In 2017, Rini was under the care of an Ohio health center that provides behavioral health treatment services for those experiencing mental health or substance abuse issues, according to a 2017 court motion in Medina County Court.
Timmothy’s family had been cautiously hopeful over Wednesday’s news, as were neighbors and others who’d long wondered whether he is dead or alive.
“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,” FBI spokesman Timothy Beam said in a statement Thursday.
Timmothy vanished after his mother, Amy Fry-Pitzen, pulled him out of kindergarten early one day, took him on a two-day road trip to the zoo and a water park, and then killed herself at a hotel. She left a note saying that her son was safe with people who would love and care for him, and added: “You will never find him.”
In Timmothy’s hometown of Aurora, Illinois, police Sgt. Bill Rowley said that over the years his department has received thousands of tips about Timmothy, including false sightings.
“We’re always worried about copycats, especially something that has a big national attention like this,” Rowley said.
Timmothy’s family members said they were heartbroken at the latest twist.
“It’s devastating. It’s like reliving that day all over again, and Timmothy’s father is devastated once again,” said his aunt Kara Jacobs.
The boy’s grandmother Alana Anderson said: “It’s been awful. We’ve been on tenterhooks, hopeful and frightened. It’s just been exhausting.” She added, “I feel so sorry for the young man who’s obviously had a horrible time and felt the need to say he was somebody else.”