Why would someone claim to be a missing child?
It didn’t take long for investigators to learn that a young man claiming to be a boy who went missing in 2011 wasn’t who he said he was.
That man, Brian Michael Rini, 23, had shown up in a Kentucky neighborhood Wednesday, claiming he had fled for two hours from his captors, and identifying himself as the missing Illinois boy Timmothy Pitzen. But DNA results quickly showed otherwise.
“The person in question is not Timmothy Pitzen,” the FBI in Louisville tweeted Thursday.
“To be clear, 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.”
The jaw-dropping twist in the case raised the question: Why would someone claim to be a missing child?
Jonathon Rini, the man’s estranged brother, was at a loss too. When journalists asked why his brother might impersonate a missing child, he replied, “I honestly do not know.”
The scenario of an adult impersonating a missing boy echoed the events chronicled in a 2012 documentary, “The Imposter” which is centered on a French-Algerian man, Frederic Bourdin, who claimed to be missing Texas teen Nicholas Barclay.
Despite having been found in Spain, having a French accent and the fact that Bourdin had brown eyes, not blue eyes like Nicholas, Bourdin assumed his identity and settled with his family in Texas.
Experts spoke to CNN about why someone might try to assume the identity of a missing child. They have not assessed Rini.
The man’s actions may have been psychotic or deliberate, in pursuit of a fantasy of being wanted and taken care of, said Dr. Gail Saltz, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at New York Presbyterian Hospital.
“A young adult may be feeling lost, maybe feeling like he doesn’t have anybody or anything, and having a fantasy that he could be wanted, looked for, be rescued and be taken care of by family.”
An impersonator could be “running away from something,” she said. Or perhaps there was something identifiable about being a lost boy.
“A young man who feels he is a lost boy, coming to the idea that he could be an actual lost boy, isn’t so far fetched,” Saltz said.
If it was related to mental health, she noted that the early 20s is the peak of presentation for several psychotic illnesses.
“If he actually believes he is this person, obviously we’re thinking about a psychotic process,” she said.
Jeffrey Gardere, a psychologist and associate professor at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine, said there could be different issues driving someone to impersonate a missing child.
“If they’re not doing it for financial gain, then it is something that is without looking at malingering here, we’re looking at perhaps someone who does have some legitimate mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, perhaps even a Munchausen syndrome by proxy where they are assuming that identity in order to get a lot of sympathy and attention.”
He also added that it’s possible that a person “imposes this fake identity to get some attention.”
“You show them the DNA results and they say they aren’t the person. And you ask them why and you cannot get them to tell you. It speaks to a deeper psychological issue. I think that’s what may be going on. … It seems there are deeper psychological issues going on, probably some sociological things.” Gardere said.
Used his brother’s identity
Jonathon Rini told CNN that his brother has been in trouble before and that he hasn’t seen him in years. He said that their relationship has been strained and that his brother had used his name during a traffic stop that resulted in him getting a notice that his license had been suspended.
“This doesn’t surprise me in the least,” Jonathon Rini told reporters. “I hope he gets help. I also hope he goes to prison for this or at least an institution.”
Whatever Rini’s reasons for pretending to be the missing boy, his actions caused Timmothy’s family renewed heartbreak.
“There’s no closure for them,” Saltz said. “When something like this happens, it stokes that lack of closure.”
The twist in the case devastated Timmothy’s family.
“It’s like reliving that day all over again,” Kara Jacobs, Timmothy’s aunt, told reporters.