For Timmothy Pitzen's 7th birthday a few weeks ago, his grandmother and dad planted a 7-year-old blue spruce in the grandmother's backyard in Antioch.
"I bought him a birthday card and cut out pictures of the things I would have bought for him," Alana Anderson said. "A lighted skateboard. A remote-control helicopter."
Timmothy, a bright, energetic, brown-eyed boy, has been gone since May 11, when his mother, Amy Fry-Pitzen, took him from his Aurora elementary school and went on a two-day road trip that ended when she committed suicide in a Rockford motel room. A note that Fry-Pitzen left said her son was safe, but she did not elaborate.
Now, six months later, Timmothy remains missing and investigators are stumped. Aurora police are expected to update the investigation and release new video of the boy Friday in hopes of drawing out new leads.
Anderson and Jim Pitzen, the boy's father, are trying to cope with heartbreaking anxiety while they prepare for a Thanksgiving far different than last year's, when Anderson, Jim and Amy Fry-Pitzen, and Timmothy gathered at the Pitzen house in Aurora. Fry-Pitzen prepared a delicious meal.
This year, Pitzen will be visiting his parents out of town. Anderson will be accompanying an aunt to Arizona.
The family holds fast to the belief that the child is alive.
"I just try to do one day at a time," Pitzen said Thursday. "I hope whoever has Tim understands that he's not theirs and he needs to come home to his family."
Anderson said she, too, is trying to take every day as it comes, "trying to put the pieces of my life together. They're just not that many of them left anymore."
Anderson, who lives alone, said she misses her daughter, who helped paint Anderson's house and clear her garden last spring, and her grandson, who would sleep at Anderson's home every other weekend.
"It's been rough," Anderson said. "I think the first couple of months you're in such shock, you're almost numb and it doesn't quite sink in. But now … I don't expect it to be a whole lot better anytime soon."
In the months since Timmothy disappeared, Pitzen lost his manufacturing job. He said he does "what I can do to keep occupied" and to keep his mind off his son's absence.
Pitzen said he is "upset" with his wife but said he will forgive her "at some point."
"I think about her all the time," he said. "I just wonder what she did with our son and why she wanted him to be with someone else."
Anderson is seeing a therapist and has received support from her pastor, friends, co-workers and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, which has assigned a volunteer who has dealt with the disappearance of a loved one to counsel Anderson.
And, she started a journal about a week after Timmothy went missing. Anderson said she writes "cute, little stories about him so he'll know what he was like, how I felt about him; how hard we looked for him; the places we went and things we did together."
Pitzen and Anderson base their contention that Timmothy is safe on two factors: Amy Fry-Pitzen deeply loved her son and routinely demonstrated her affection. In addition, she meticulously planned her own death, leading Anderson and Pitzen to believe she'd made detailed plans for her only child's safety.
Fry-Pitzen, 43, had a history of depression, but Anderson, a retired emergency room nurse, said her daughter "was not a crazy person. She absolutely never acted bizarrely."
After picking up Timmothy about 8:30 a.m. May 11 from his kindergarten class, Fry-Pitzen and the boy visited Brookfield Zoo, KeyLime Cove waterpark in Gurnee and Kalahari Resorts in the Wisconsin Dells, authorities said.
Mother and son were last seen together about 10:10 a.m. May 12, leaving the Kalahari. Over the next 24 hours, Fry-Pitzen made several cellphone calls from the Sterling-Rock Falls area, but authorities have been unable to determine precise locations. Timmothy spoke on the phone or was overheard in at least one of the calls, authorities have said.
Investigators have traced Fry-Pitzen's final call on May 13 to about five miles northwest of Sterling, near Illinois Highway 40. When she checked in to the Rockford motel about 11:15 p.m. on the 13th, she was alone, police said.
By 12:30 p.m. on May 14, when motel employees found her body, Fry-Pitzen had slit her wrists with a knife, investigators said. Anderson said her daughter left one note at the motel and had mailed two others — one to Anderson, one to a friend in Iowa.
Anderson's last contact with police came Tuesday, when she agreed to provide a DNA sample. Although authorities already have DNA from Fry-Pitzen and Jim Pitzen, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children had suggested "a wider profile," Anderson said.
Police on Thursday declined to elaborate about what information they would release Friday. One of investigators' latest efforts was a lab analysis of plants and mud on the 2004 Ford Expedition Fry-Pitzen was driving shortly before her death.
Authorities had said they hoped the analysis would lead them to a more specific area to look for Timmothy. In May, dozens of local, state and federal investigators searched state parks and other remote areas about 100 miles west of Chicago, where cellphone records indicated Fry-Pitzen and Timmothy were last known to be together.
Anderson said police may have found a more specific area to search near the city of Rock Falls. Jim Pitzen declined to discuss his recent conversations with Aurora police.
While she waits, Anderson has started to clear some of her grandson's belongings, giving away his Play-Doh, clothes that no longer would fit, building blocks, puzzles and other items that had stopped drawing his attention.
But she has kept some of his favorites: toy cars and trucks she found under a bed, the book "Diary of a Worm," cloth for pajamas she was making for him and a plastic spoon he used the last time they visited Dairy Queen.
They remind her of Timmothy and, she said, she hopes he will be interested in them when he returns.
"He's out there," Anderson said, "and I think when he's old enough, he'll find us."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun