Pennsylvania woman reappears 11 years after being presumed dead

By David Ferguson
Thursday, May 2, 2013 9:48 EDT
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Brenda Heist via screencap
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A Pennsylvania woman who abruptly vanished 11 years ago turned herself in to police in Key Largo, Florida last Friday. According to CNN, Brenda Heist walked out on her family in Lititz, Pennsylvania in February of 2002 while her children were at school.

Detective Sgt. John Schofield of the Lititz Borough Police told CNN that he had been searching for Heist since she disappeared. When Florida police checked Heist’s name against missing persons records, they found a match.

After trading photos and details of Heist’s story with officers in Key Largo, Schofield realized the 11-year-old case was finally coming to a resolution.

“Two days later, I flew down to Florida to meet with her,” he said

Brenda Heist was in the process of getting amicably divorced in 2002 when she walked away from her life. She dropped her children off at school and then reportedly got bad news about a housing application. In despair, she went to a local park to be alone. There, she met a group of strangers who invited her on a road trip to Florida. She abandoned her car and possessions and joined them.

“At a whim, she decided at that very moment, she would go along with them,” said Schofield.

Schofield said that he has communicated with Heist at length, trying to piece together the vagabond life she led since her disappearance and to understand what led her to walk away from her life.

“She was very emotional,” he said. “She hung her head; she’s ashamed. She was crying when I met with her. She knows what she did was completely wrong, but all that while, she’d never made one effort to call or contact her family at all.”

Heist was homeless for the first two years, then lived out of a camper with a man she had a relationship with. They would do odd jobs as day laborers for cash. When the relationship ended, Heist was homeless again. It was the wear and tear of the struggle of living on the street that led her, finally, to turn herself in.

“Everything seemed to be going against her while she was on the street,” Schofield explained. “She was just worn out and at the end of her rope. She didn’t want to continue on with her secret life down there.”

Becky Herrin, a spokesperson for the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department said that Heist is currently in “protective custody,” although no charges have been filed in the case.

Heist’s ex-husband Lee Heist said that neither he nor his two children, now grown, have spoken to Brenda Heist.

“I don’t see where my communicating with her would be productive for either one of us. But if she’s healthy and wants to talk to the kids, and they want to talk to her, I will make sure they can visit her,” he said.

Watch video about this story, embedded via CNN, below:

David Ferguson
David Ferguson
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
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