For a day and a half, a breakthrough seemed to be at hand when a man found wandering the streets of Newport, Kentucky, on Wednesday identified himself as Timmothy Pitzen and claimed he had just escaped from two men in the Cincinnati area who had held him captive for seven years.
"DNA results have been returned indicating the person in question is not Timmothy Pitzen," FBI spokesman Timothy Beam in Louisville said in a statement. "A local investigation continues into this person's true identity."
He added: "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."
Yami Grande, a neighbor in Illinois, said she and her family never forgot about the boy down the street.
"Literally felt like I was going to see him today, you know? I thought he was really going to come home in my arms. For it to be the opposite really hurts a lot," said Grande.
Grande said Pitzen's father gave her family Timmothy's bike when he went missing.
"I just want him to know that we're still here -- a couple houses down, waiting for him with our arms wide open," said Grande.
Timmothy vanished at age 6 after his mother 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. Amy Fry-Pitzen 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."
After the man came forward, Aurora police and the FBI began checking out his story. Authorities and Timmothy's family had reacted cautiously to the latest turn in the case after a multitude of disappointments over the years.
"There have been so many tips and sightings and whatnot, and you try not to panic or be overly excited," said Timmothy's grandmother, Alana Anderson. "Every day you hope, and every day you worry."
Police have said Timmothy's mother might have dropped the boy off with a friend, noting that the boy's car seat and Spider-Man backpack were gone. Police also found credit card receipts showing she bought children's clothing and toys in Wisconsin.
Timmothy's grandmother said Thursday that her daughter had fought depression for years and was having problems in her marriage to Timmothy's father. Some news reports suggested she was afraid she would lose custody of the boy in a divorce because of her mental instability.
At the time of the boy's disappearance, police searched for him in Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa.
"We've probably had thousands of tips of him popping up in different areas," Aurora police Sgt. Bill Rowley said Wednesday. "We have to be cautiously optimistic every time we receive salient information, make a diligent effort that we do the proverbial dotting the is and crossing the Ts that's what we did here."
At Greenman Elementary, Timmothy's schoolmates, teachers and parents tied hundreds of yellow ribbons around trees and signs. A garden was planted in his memory.
The brief but tantalizing possibility that the case had been solved generated excitement in Timmothy's former neighborhood.
Pedro Melendez, who lives in Timmothy's former home, didn't know the boy but saved the concrete slab with his name, handprint and footprint etched in it when he redid the back patio. It is dated '09.
"My wife is really excited. She's been following this story since we moved in the house," said Melendez, who bought the house from the boy's father. "Hopefully, it's him."
Linda Ramirez, who lives nearby and knew the family, said she was "pretty excited" but didn't "want to have false hopes."
On Wednesday, police in the Cincinnati suburb of Sharonville said the man calling himself Timmothy reported that he had escaped from two kidnappers he described as men with bodybuilder-type physiques.
They were in a Ford SUV with Wisconsin license plates and had been staying at a Red Roof Inn, according to the police report.