A little boy vanished without a trace in 2011. His grandmother believes he’s being kept on a Mormon commune

In 2011, Timmothy Pitzen’s mother took him out of school for a spontaneous road trip. Three days later, she had killed herself but there was no trace of the boy, who is still missing 13 years later. Loved ones say a clue to his whereabouts was in her suicide note. Andrea Cavallier reports

Saturday 08 June 2024 13:20
Timmothy Pitzen (pictured left as a child, and right in an age-progression image) has been missing since May 2011. His mother, Amy Fry-Pitzen, was found dead by suicide days later
Timmothy Pitzen (pictured left as a child, and right in an age-progression image) has been missing since May 2011. His mother, Amy Fry-Pitzen, was found dead by suicide days later (NCMEC)

For 13 years, no one has seen or heard from Timmothy Pitzen, an Illinois boy who mysteriously vanished in 2011 – but his loved ones believe he’s still alive and living on a Mormon commune with no access to the outside world or awareness that people are looking for him.

Timmothy was just six years old when his mother Amy Fry-Pitzen picked him up from school in May 2011, claiming there was a family emergency. They then embarked on a road trip, visiting zoos and water parks across state lines.

At the end of the three days, on May 14, Fry-Pitzen, 43, was found dead in a hotel room. Timmothy was nowhere to be found, but his mother had left behind a cryptic suicide note saying her son was “safe” and being cared for. But then it added: “You’ll never find him.”

Timmothy’s paternal grandmother Linda Pitzen recently told the US Sun that after “torturing” herself trying to decipher the note, she is convinced her grandson is still alive.

His childhood friend Hannah Soukup, who has done her own research into his disappearance, also believes this and has a theory about where he could be.

She thinks Timmothy is living on a remote Mormon commune — his mother had converted to the religion — without access to the internet.

Linda Pitzen, Timmothy’s paternal grandmother, said it’s possible he is on a commune with no contact with the outside world
Linda Pitzen, Timmothy’s paternal grandmother, said it’s possible he is on a commune with no contact with the outside world (Alamy)

“I still think about Timmothy a lot and what happened to him, and with Amy, there were a lot of unexplained visits to certain places,” Soukup told the US Sun.

“I believe she dropped him off somewhere – I don’t know if it was in a religious area, or something like that – but I think she dropped him off and gave him to people she knew would keep him safe and hidden,” she added.

“And I think she made it clear that either his identity had to be changed or that he had to stay away from the internet so he’d never know he was missing.”

Timmothy’s grandmother agrees and said “it would explain a lot.”

“I’ve agreed with that theory from the beginning.

“I read that suicide note, and if you read that note and you know her, I would guess she probably gave him to somebody to live in a compound. I have to hope that’s true because it’d be a lot better option for me to deal with, as opposed to what the other options are.”

Timmothy Pitzen vanished aged six in 2011 when his mother picked him up from school, claiming there was a family emergency
Timmothy Pitzen vanished aged six in 2011 when his mother picked him up from school, claiming there was a family emergency ( Aurora Police Department)

She does not believe Fry-Pitzen would have ever hurt Timmothy and instead thinks her plan had something to do with her Mormon beliefs.

“I think she wanted Timm to be raised Mormon,” Pitzen said of her daughter-in-law. “The rest of us aren’t Mormon and I think this was her way of making sure he was after she’d gone.”

Her son James “Jim” Pitzen was married to Fry-Pitzen, who’d been raised a Mormon but converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints before the couple met each other.

"She never pushed it on anyone apart from Jim,” she said. “But he was reluctant and I think her church may have been pushing her a little, I don’t know.”

Last known images of Timmothy and his mother

Timmothy was last seen on May 11, 2011, shortly after being dropped off at Greenman Elementary School, in Aurora, Illinois, by his father, Jim.

Timmothy and his mother walking through the Kalahari Resort in Wisconsin Dells.
Timmothy and his mother walking through the Kalahari Resort in Wisconsin Dells. (CCTV)
The last known footage of Timmothy shows him playing as his mother checks out of the hotel
The last known footage of Timmothy shows him playing as his mother checks out of the hotel (CCTV)

On May 13, surveillance video captured the last known images of Timmothy and his mother as they checked out of the Kalahari Resort in Wisconsin Dells.

Timmothy was still wearing the same Spider-Man backpack he’d worn to school two days earlier.

Fry-Pitzen then drove about 170 miles along the Rock River toward Sterling, a small rural town about 80 miles west of Aurora, before turning off her cellphone, records show.

Several hours passed before Fry-Pitzen was spotted at a store in Winnebago, Illinois, at 8pm, where she bought a pen, paper, and envelopes. It’s believed these materials would later be used to form her suicide note.

Later that evening, Fry-Pitzen checked into the Rockford Inn at 11:15pm. She was found dead by suicide in her room by a hotel maid the next day.

“I’ve taken him somewhere safe. He will be well cared for and he says that he loves you. Please know that there is nothing you could have said or done that would have changed my mind,” she wrote in the note.

Suicide attempts and a turbulent marriage

Jim Pitzen knew something was wrong when he arrived at Timmothy’s school to pick him up only to be told that his wife had already done so.

The couple, who had been going through a turbulent time in their marriage, had discussed separating just weeks beforehand.

Timmothy Pitzen: Teenager tells police he is missing child who vanished eight years ago in Illinois

On May 12, before turning her phone off for good, Fry-Pitzen made several calls including one to her husband and to her husband’s brother Chuck.

“Timmothy is fine. Timmothy belongs to me. Timmothy and I will be fine. Timmothy is safe. Timm is my son, I can do what I want,” she said on the call, Jim told police.

She then reportedly told Jim’s brother Chuck: “What, don’t you trust me? I’m not going to hurt myself. I’m not going to hurt Timm.”

Fry-Pitzen had survived two prior suicide attempts and was taking medication for depression, the Sun reported.

Her mother-in-law wonders what would have been different if she had received the right treatment.

“I fight myself on the question of ‘what was going through her mind’ all the time,” Linda Pitzen said. “But I can honestly say she was very nice to me. I loved her like a daughter. It’s been very hard to deal with all that stuff and see the hurt that everybody has now.”

Jim Pitzen, pictured here with his son Timmothy before he vanished, knew something was wrong when he arrived at his school to pick him up only to be told that his wife had already done so
Jim Pitzen, pictured here with his son Timmothy before he vanished, knew something was wrong when he arrived at his school to pick him up only to be told that his wife had already done so (NCMEC/James Pitzen)

“She was trying to find something happy and I think Timm did that for her until he started growing up and becoming more independent, and then the depression came back.

“Maybe if she’d got the right treatment this might not have happened. But at the same time, treatment doesn’t always work. It’s one of those things.”

“But she always put Timm first,” she added. “I think she was searching for answers in herself and wasn’t able to find what she was looking for.”

‘I definitely think he’s alive’

Hannah Soukup did not find out that her friend was missing until she was 11 years old. All she knew was that one day he was there and the next he was gone.

“I remember we all just kind of assumed he was sick, so it was all very sudden, and because we were all so young we didn’t really understand what was going on, even when Mrs Broach briefly told us what happened in a sugar-coated way,” she said.

“I just remember being very, very confused that he wasn’t there.”

Like herself, Timmothy would be 19 years old today. Soukup believes that her former classmate likely has no idea of who he is, otherwise he would have made himself known to his worried family.

Timmothy Pitzen would be 19 years old now. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children released an age progression image of what he might look like now
Timmothy Pitzen would be 19 years old now. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children released an age progression image of what he might look like now (NCMEC)

“Whatever Amy did, she did a good job of hiding him,” she said.

“I think she made it clear that either his identity had to be changed or that he had to stay away from the internet so he’d never know he was missing.

“I definitely think he’s alive, but I definitely think he’s somewhere that will be very difficult to find.” she said.

Soukup said she believes he will eventually turn up.

"One of my theories is, if he is found, then I think he’s going to re-emerge by his own accord, I don’t think it will be police or investigators who track him down,” she said.

She issued a plea to anyone who may be harboring him.

“My message would be to let him go because it’s unfair to him to make him live a lie for the rest of his life because he likely doesn’t even know who he is,’ she said. “It’s so unfair that he was taken from the rest of his family because his mother had ulterior motives.”

“At the same time still, what really scares me is he could be out there leading a normal life with no idea who he is,” she added. “He could be at college with a completely different name and think these people he was handed off to are his family. I truly believe he will be found.”

Soukup, who studies journalism at the University of Northern Illinois, believes advancements in technology will help investigators pinpoint a specific location as to where Timmothy and his mother went before she was found dead.

Ex-convict claimed to be Timmothy

In April 2019, Brian Rini, 23, an ex-convict, was charged with making false statements after he claimed to be Timmothy.

Rini told police he had escaped from an eight-year ordeal at the hands of sex traffickers.

But his claims were debunked after DNA tests confirmed he was not the long-lost boy.

“Law enforcement confronted him with the DNA results, and at that point the person immediately stated that he was not Timmothy Pitzen, and of course law enforcement knew by virtue of the DNA analysis that he was in fact Brian Rini,” said US attorney Benjamin Glassman.

This undated photo provided by the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office in Cincinnati shows Brian Rini, who claimed to be missing boy Timmothy Pitzen in 2019
This undated photo provided by the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office in Cincinnati shows Brian Rini, who claimed to be missing boy Timmothy Pitzen in 2019 (AP)

The charge should send a message about the damage such false claims can do, he said, adding: “It’s not okay to do it because of the harm that it causes, the pain, for the family of that missing child.”

After confessing, Rini told federal agents he had heard about the case on the ABC 20/20 and wanted to get away from his own family, according to court documents.

“When questioned further, Rini stated that he wished he had a father like Timmothy’s because if he went missing, his father would just keep drinking,” FBI agent Mary Braun wrote.

Authorities said Rini had made false claims twice before, also portraying himself as a juvenile sex-trafficking victim.

The investigation

Forensic analysis determined that Fry-Pitzen stopped her car somewhere in northwest Illinois, likely near a body of water, before driving back to Rockford alone. But a specific location has still not been determined.

The Aurora Police Department searched the area after Timmothy’s disappearance but came up empty-handed. The case turned cold within months.

In a recent statement, police said its officers remain committed to solving the case and that all leads are being pursued.

“The 13-year investigation into the disappearance of Timmothy Pitzen remains an active investigation,” Lieutenant Joseph Howe wrote. “Over the years, the department has received and investigated several tips and theories from the community. Unfortunately, none of those have resulted in Timmothy being located.”

Earlier this year, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children released a new computer-generated image showing what Timmothy might look like today at 19.

“He’s handsome. Very handsome,” his grandmother said after seeing the new image. “I like the fact that he’s got reddish brown hair because he had reddish brown hair and he had light freckles. So I like that a lot.”

“I would love to hug him but I don’t know if that’ll ever happen,” she added.

“There’s 13 years that have passed, and those would’ve been very formative years.”

To mark the 13th year that Timmothy has been missing, his father shared a message with NCMEC for his son.

Dear Timmothy,

The years apart have been hard, I am so looking forward for us to be reunited. There is so much of your young life I have not been able to be a part of while you have been missing. The future is bright, and I look forward to spending time with you, and getting to know my son again. Till I see you again.

Love, Dad

If you or someone you know is affected by any of the issues raised in this story, call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988, chat on 988lifeline.org, or text Crisis Text Line at 741741.

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