Eleven years ago, Brenda Heist dropped her two children off at school in Lititz, Pa. and then disappeared. The dinner she'd been preparing was left defrosting, and her car was found in a nearby county. None of her possessions were missing. Nine years later, her ex-husband, Lee Heist, who police initially viewed as a suspect, had her declared legally dead. Since then, her ex husband has remarried, and her two children, now 19 and 23, went to college.
Earlier this week, Heist surfaced, alive and well, in Florida. After turning herself in for outstanding warrants in Key Largo, she informed a Monroe County sheriff's deputy that she was a missing person. The deputy contacted Lititz Borough Police Det. John Schofield, who visited Heist in Florida on Monday.
"She said she was at the end of her rope, she was tired of running," Schofield said.
According to Schofield's recounting of the meeting, Heist was going through a divorce at the time of her disappearance. A judge's ruling that she was ineligible for housing assistance sent her into a depression.
After dropping her children off at school, she went to a park to cry, where she said she met two women and a man, all three of whom were homeless. The trio invited Heist to join them on a month-long hitchhiking trip to Florida. Heist accepted, and she's been in south Florida ever since, using a fake name. She told Schofield she lived under bridges and in trailers, sometimes resorting to panhandling and scavenging for food to survive.
Understandably, her ex-husband, Lee, was upset during a press conference announcing the news. He noted that he lost his job after Heist disappeared and that his status in the community suffered because people assumed he was responsible for her disappearance. "There were people in the neighborhood who would not allow their children to play with my children,” he said.
As for Heist, once she's released from custody in Monroe County, she'll spend time with her brother in Florida and her mother in Texas before returning to Pennsylvania.
"She has a birth certificate and a death certificate so she's got a long ways to make this right again," Schofield said. "She's got to take it slow with her family, I'm sure, and it's going to be a long process."
[Associated Press/Image via Lititz Borough Police]
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