CLINTON, N.C. (AP) - Hope gave way to heartbreak for relatives of a missing North Carolina boy after DNA test showed a child abandoned at a Chicago hospital was not Tristen "Buddy" Myers.
"It's been hard on us, but we're just going to go on, keep on trying to find Buddy, because we know somebody has him," his great-aunt and guardian, Donna Myers, said Saturday.
She said the family was praying that, with all the recent publicity, people would keep their eyes open for the blond 6-year-old they call Buddy. The family hasn't seen him since he wandered away from her home 2-1/2 years ago.
"Buddy's out there, we know he's out there," Myers told NBC's "Today" show.
The family thought it had found the missing boy after hearing late last month about a child called Eli Quick who had been left at a suburban Chicago hospital and apparently hadn't bathed or changed clothes in days.
The Illinois Department of Child and Family Services had contacted the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and found that the boy almost exactly matched the center's age progression image of Buddy. Myers was shown photos of the boy, and the family was hopeful that was it was him.
But the results of DNA testing on Buddy's mother and Eli, announced Friday, showed the boy couldn't be Buddy. Eli is now in foster care while Illinois officials try to verify his identity.
"We have a void in our lives and we are still trying to fill it with hope," said Buddy's cousin, Sherry Hicks.
Buddy was 4 when he wandered away from his great-aunt's house, accompanied by two family dogs. The family searched for him for about an hour and then called police, who began a broad search around the rural clapboard home in Roseboro, 60 miles south of Raleigh.
Sampson County Sgt. Darold Cox, who has led the sheriff's department investigation, vowed to stick with the case until it's resolved.
"I'll never, ever, ever give up," Cox said.
Authorities have received more than 1,000 leads since Buddy disappeared and Cox said he'll keep looking into new tips.
The DNA results don't resolve the question of whose child Eli is, where he came from and what his future holds. Authorities said the boy is attending school now and doing well in foster care, and the FBI will remain involved to determine if he was kidnapped.
Ricky Quick, the man who brought Eli to the hospital in February to be evaluated for aggressive behavior, said Friday he would fight for custody.
"I'm looking forward to getting him back," Quick said. He has said Eli was given to him by a prostitute who told him the boy was his son.
Mary Sue Morsch with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, said the agency doesn't know if Quick is related to the boy. The FBI declined to say whether DNA tests were being done to prove the boy was Quick's son.
Morsch said a biological link does not take precedence in determining who will care for the boy. "We will be looking for a parent or a relative who might be an appropriate custodian," she said.