AURORA, Ill. — Timmothy Pitzen would be too big now to ride the orange-handled Mongoose bicycle Yammi Grande keeps in her parents’ garage. It’s a bicycle for the thatch-headed 6-year-old who left kindergarten May 11, 2011, led by the hand of a mother who would kill herself within the week and leave only cryptic notes about her son's fate. A healthy 14-year-old would find the seat too low, the helmet too small. He’d have to throw his knees out in either direction to pedal.
Still, his one-time neighbor keeps it. Just in case.
“He was always on his bike all the time,” Grande, 18, said Thursday. “To the point that I was like, ‘Dad, you’ve got to buy us all bikes,’ and we all got our bikes and would race each other across this big parking lot.
“I just wish we could do that one more time.”
She slept over at her parents’ house Wednesday night, hoping like many Aurorans that Pitzen — the only person from their community listed in the National Registry for Missing and Exploited Children — would soon be on his way home.
A man who claimed to be Pitzen had been discovered in Newport, Kentucky, that morning. He said he had escaped a pair of kidnappers who held him at a Red Roof Inn.
He was lying. His real name was Brian Rini, a 23-year-old Ohio man with a history of incarceration and mental illness. In the 24 hours between his appearance and the DNA results that proved he was not Pitzen, even the missing boy’s family members dared to hope.
The disappointment was bitter but not unfamiliar, Grande said: “This isn’t the first time this has happened.”
Pitzen’s disappearance created a lasting wound in Aurora, according to family friend Linda Ramirez.
“It was hard for all of us,” Ramirez said. “He grew up in our home with our kids. More than the community … he was part of our family.”
The new owners of his parents’ old house continue to find items that might have belonged to him. Outside their home, a concrete slab marked with a small handprint reads Tim '09.
And Grande continues to hang on to the old orange bike, hoping that someday she and Pitzen will be able to reminisce together about their parking-lot races.
“I honestly wish this wasn’t what I thought it would be,” she said. “But I just want (Timmothy) to know that I’m still waiting for him with my arms wide open.”