An Ohio man who pretended to be missing Timmothy Pitzen, who vanished as a child in 2011, was sentenced to two years in prison for aggravated identity theft.
Brian Michael Rini, 24, was sentenced Tuesday by a federal judge after pleading guilty, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Ohio said in a press release.
Rini, posing as a teenager, told Kentucky investigators in April 2019 that he was Pitzen and had run across a bridge from Ohio to Kentucky to escape two kidnappers. He said that he had been sexually and physically assaulted for years while in captivity and that he was having abdominal pain, officials said.
Rini, who had been released from an Ohio jail the month prior, continued his ruse until authorities told him that the results of a DNA test he agreed to take did not match DNA of Pitzen's relatives. Because Rini had previously served time in jail for a conviction on burglary and vandalism charges, the FBI had access to his DNA.
Pitzen, of Aurora, Illinois, was last seen at a Wisconsin water park, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. The 6-year-old boy was last known to be in the company of his mother, Amy Fry-Pitzen, who was found dead of an apparent suicide in an Illinois hotel in May 2011.
Investigators said that Fry-Pitzen left behind notes that said her son was safe but would never be found.
Before authorities learned the truth, Pitzen's family had held out hope that the yearslong mystery surrounding the disappearance was about to end.
"We always felt very strongly that Tim was alive," Pitzen's maternal aunt, Kara Jacobs, told NBC Chicago at the time. "What I've prayed about since he's been gone is that God will keep him close and take care of him. And that maybe, by some stroke of luck, he was with people who would love him."
The boy's grandmother, Alana Anderson, told NBC News that she had never stopped thinking about her grandson.
"I just prayed that when he was old enough that he would remember us and contact us," she said. "That was kind of the best I could hope for."
According to prosecutors, Rini pretended to be Pitzen after watching a news story about the case. He told investigators that he did it because he wanted to get away from his own family.
During Tuesday's sentencing, he apologized to Pitzen's family.
"I wish that I could just take it back," Rini said. "I am sorry to the family."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyle Healey said Rini caused the family "unnecessary pain."
"He needs to understand that when he tells lies like this, it does cause damage," Healey said. "It hurts people, it hurts their families, and it takes law enforcement away from their very serious job of helping children who have been sex trafficked."