CINCINNAT (AP) - Authorities conducted DNA testing to try to determine Thursday whether a teenager found wandering the streets of a Kentucky town is who he claims to be - an Illinois boy who disappeared eight years ago around the time his mother took her own life.
The teenager told police in Newport, Kentucky, on Wednesday that he had just escaped from two men in the Cincinnati area who had held him captive for seven years, and he identified himself as 14-year-old Timmothy Pitzen, authorities said. Newport is just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati.
In 2011, a boy by the name of Timmothy Pitzen from Aurora, Illinois, 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. She left a note saying that her son was safe but that no one would ever find him.
The case baffled police, Timmothy's family and his hometown for years and left them wondering whether he was dead or alive.
After Wednesday's developments, Aurora police sent two detectives to check out the teenager's story, and the FBI was also investigating. Timmothy's grandmother and an aunt said police were using DNA testing.
"We still have no confirmation of the identity of the person located, but hope to have something later this afternoon or early this evening," Aurora police tweeted Thursday morning.
The teenager was taken Wednesday to a hospital, and no information on his condition was released. Newport is some 330 miles (530 kilometers) from Aurora.
Police and Timmothy's family reacted cautiously to the latest turn in the case after a multitude of false leads and hoaxes 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."
Timmothy's mother, Amy Fry-Pitzen, was found dead at a hotel in Illinois in what was ruled a suicide, leaving a note that said Timmothy was with others who would love and care for him. People magazine reported that she added a chilling message: "You will never find him."
Police said she might have dropped Timmothy 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.
The father, Jim Pitzen, has since moved to Clinton, Iowa. Attempts to reach him by telephone for comment were unsuccessful.
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.
In the frantic early days of the search, police found what they said was a significant amount of blood in the backseat of the mother's SUV, and tests confirmed it was Timmothy's. But the boy's father explained that his son had a history of nosebleeds and had suffered a serious one just days before he disappeared.
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.
"It was certainly a time of emotional confusion as a community," said former Principal Nick Baughman. "There were feelings of surprise, followed closely by feelings of grief, anger and helplessness. I never had the sense that it turned to feelings of despair and hopelessness."
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." Ramirez described Timmothy as "a very happy boy with a lot of energy." She said his mother loved him very much but appeared "very sad" the morning she went to take her son out of school.
On Wednesday, police in the Cincinnati suburb of Sharonville said the teenager 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.