A DNA test has revealed a man's claim he was a missing boy who escaped his kidnappers was in fact a "hoax", crushing the hopes of the boy's family.
When someone claiming to be a 14-year-old was found wandering the streets of a Kentucky town, it appeared there had been a breakthrough in the case of Timmothy Pitzen who went missing eight years ago aged six.
But a DNA test dispelled the possibility he was missing Timmothy and police eventually identified him as 23-year-old ex-convict Brian Rini of Medina, Ohio.
He told police he had just escaped two kidnappers and claimed he got away after leaving an unknown Red Roof Inn motel and "kept running across a bridge" into Kentucky, according to NBC News.
Authorities did not say whether Rini would face charges over the alleged hoax or what his motive was.
The hoaxer was released from an Ohio prison less than a month ago after serving more than a year for burglary and vandalism.
Police had been sceptical about the case's new development due to the thousands of tips about Timmothy they had received over the years, including false sightings.
"I'm disappointed that this appears to be either a hoax or some person that's obviously lying about who he was," said police sergeant Bill Rowley.
He added: "It created a renewed awareness in the case. So I think that's probably good. It's good that it's got people thinking about the case again and perhaps has people looking at the case with new eyes."
Timmothy's family was cautiously hopeful over Wednesday's news, as were neighbours and others who have long wondered whether he is dead or alive.
His grandmother Alana Anderson said she'd "been on tenterhooks" waiting to find out if the news was true.
"We've been hopeful, alternately hopeful and frightened, it's it's just been exhausting."
She added: "He's a wonderful little boy and I hope he has strength of personality to do whatever he needs to do to find us.
"My prayer has always been that when he was old enough, he would find us, if we couldn't find him."
- Timmothy's aunt and grandmother speak to reporters:
Kara Jacobs, the missing boy's aunt said: "Unfortunately this child is not our beloved Timmothy."
"We know that you are out there somewhere, Tim, and we will never stop looking for you praying for you and loving you."
She added: "It's devastating. It's like reliving that day all over again, and Timmothy's father is devastated once again."
Timmothy vanished after his mother, Amy Fry-Pitzen, 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 with people who would love and care for him, and added: "You will never find him."
Police have said she might have dropped the boy off with a friend, noting that his car seat and Spider-Man backpack were gone.