On the morning of May 11, 2011, Amy Fry-Pitzen signed her 6-year-old son Timmothy out of his kindergarten class and hit the road. Police would later determine they visited a zoo and two water parks within a three-hour drive of their Aurora, Illinois, home.
Three days later, police found Amy dead of suicide in a Rockford, Illinois, motel room. But there was no trace of Timmothy—just a note from his mother saying he was safe with unnamed people. It contained a chilling prediction:
“You will never find him.”
For nearly eight agonizing years, that was true. But in an extraordinary turn of events, a battered and frightened 14-year-old boy surfaced in Kentucky on Wednesday claiming to be a kidnap victim. His name, he said, was Timmothy Pitzen.
“He walked up to my car and he went, ‘Can you help me? I just want to get home. Can you just please help me?’ And I asked him what was going on and he told me he’s been kidnapped,” a good Samaritan who called police told WCPO.
“Really you felt bad for him, his face looked like he’d been beat up. He had a really big bruise on his face. I was hurt for him.”
Police have not said whether they have confirmed the teenager is, in fact, the same boy who walked out of Greenman Elementary School, wearing a Spider-Man backpack, with his mom years earlier.
Preliminary DNA test results were expected sometime Thursday.
Details of where the teenager has been and who was holding him are also scant. A police report said he described his captors as “two male, whites, body-builder type build,” with tattoos and a vehicle with Wisconsin plates. He told cops he escaped from a Red Roof Inn and ran across a bridge into Newport, Kentucky, where he asked strangers for help.
The FBI offices in Louisville and Cincinnati were working with three police agencies to vet the teen’s story. Police fanned out to Red Roof Inns in surrounding towns in an effort to corroborate the account and find the men the teen described, according to local reports.
Pitzen’s father, James, who has mounted a tireless search for the boy and never gave up hope he was alive, did not respond to inquiries from The Daily Beast on Wednesday night.
Timmothy’s grandmother, Alana Anderson, told NBC Chicago she was waiting anxiously for the test results.
“We never forgot, never stopped thinking about him everyday, stayed in touch with the police,” she said. “It just went cold, and I just prayed that when he was old enough that he would remember us and contact us — that was kind of the best I could hope for for a long time.”
Amy Fry-Pitzen, 42, had grappled with depression for much of adulthood but both her husband and her family have described her as a loving mother—that’s the the epitaph on her gravestone—who would not hurt Timmothy.
James Pitzen told People magazine in 2015 that there were tensions in the marriage but nothing that would suggest Amy or their child was in any danger.
“I always wonder what she told Timmothy,” he told the magazine. “Why hasn’t he tried to call? We taught him how to dial 911. ‘This is your number, this is your mom’s number, you know where you live, your address,’ all the stuff you do. We got one of those little IDenticards for kids, with his fingerprint and his name and a picture of him, so if he got lost somewhere you could find him.”
Amy’s mother, Alana Anderson, told People she could not explain her daughter’s actions. “You don’t give your children away. I had some trouble forgiving her for what she did to herself. I don’t think I can ever forgive her for what she did to her child,” Anderson said.
Authorities ran down every possible lead to find Timmothy: a painstaking forensic analysis of his mother’s abandoned SUV, checking out alleged sightings, distributing an age-progression photo.
But as the years went by, it seemed more and more likely the prediction in Amy’s note would turn out to be true—a scenario that haunted Aurora police Detective Lee Catavu.
“I'll be in bed at night and all these thoughts swirl in my head,” he told the Aurora Beacon-News in 2015. “When I get a free moment, even on vacation, my mind will drift over to this case.”
Now Catavu and everyone else is waiting to find out if the teenager in Newport is really Timmothy Pitzen. If so, it will mean the mantra that James Pitzen has repeated every night before he goes to bed since 2011 has finally come true: “Maybe I’ll see Tim in the morning... maybe tomorrow they’ll find him.”