Mom Found Alive 11 Years After She Dropped Her Kids at School & Went Missing

Brenda HeistIt's hard to imagine the shock Brenda Heist's family must have felt this week when they got the call that she was alive. It was 11 years ago that the Pennsylvania mom disappeared without a trace, leaving behind half-folded laundry, a dinner that was defrosting, and her children, who were 8 and 12 at the time.

According to the Huffington Post, after attempts to find her were unsuccessful, she was legally declared dead. Only, she wasn't dead, and this week she was found alive and well in Florida.

While it might sound like the sort of joyous ending people wish and pray for, it's not quite that simple because, according to police, she left of her own will.  

According to reports she was going through an "amicable" divorce in 2002, but that stress and financial concerns were devastating to her. After dropping her kids off at school one day, she was crying in a park when somehow a conversation with a man and woman there led to her joining them to hitchhike down to the Florida Keys. There she stayed for the next decade, living with homeless people on the streets, never once reaching out to her children.

As moms I think we've all had days in which we just want to run away from our real lives, but usually we take a deep breath (or a shot of something strong) and get back to raising our kids and the day-to-day family life. It's simply unfathomable to actually run away like she did. Those poor children. I imagine all of their sorrow and mourning over the years, and now ... now what? How do you reconcile the joy over learning someone you once loved is alive and the anger at knowing she deserted you?

But at the same time I have some pangs of sympathy for this woman because as awful as what she did was, maybe she just felt that desperate. It's not like she went off to live the high life. She was living off the streets, eating out of trash cans. Perhaps she felt incapable of raising her children, or that they were better off without her. I don't know, but I do know that any mother would have to be in a pretty bad place to do what she did.

And she must have had some regrets. She reportedly just walked into the sheriff's office in Key Largo, Florida, last Friday and told them she was a missing person. Police detective John Schofield told the Huffington Post, "She said she was at the end of her rope, she was tired of running."

Among the many other questions that need to be answered in this case is the matter of the life insurance money that her husband, Lee Heist, collected after she was declared dead. It's hard to imagine what an insurance company would do in a case like this. Schofield said:

She has a birth certificate and a death certificate so she's got a long ways to make this right again. She's got to take it slow with her family, I'm sure, and it's going to be a long process.

Long, indeed.

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Do you have any sympathy for this woman?


Image via WFMZ



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Melan... MelanieJK

Yes.    There's clearly some sort of mental issue here.    She wasn't just walking off because she couldn't cope with her life,   she couldn't cope with any kind of structured life.    It'll be interesting to find out what actually triggered coming back and if she can readjust.  

Vegeta Vegeta

Undeclairing yourself dead is a lot more stressful than a divorce (legal hassle anyway). Maybe she just needed a nice long vacation.

Gary Skeers

yes i would have sympathy for she got a point she didn't know what to do cause she was on a small salary her husband was making more money so she let deal with it of raising the kids

Teal Chastain Blacksten

She looks like she might be an addict, or at least mentally ill. I wonder why she decided to come forward now?

Green Cat Guest House

Come on people - this is the face of mental illness. Can't you see that? Ask yourself - "...who in their Right mind..." ?

jalaz77 jalaz77

I really feel bad for those kids. She has missed out on so much!!

jhslove jhslove

This clearly seems like a case of mental illness. As for her husband, I hope he doesn't have to pay back the life insurance money that's probably already gone to other things. It wasn't his fault this happened, and unless it turns out that he knew his wife was alive, it wouldn't be right to make him repay money that's already been used for bills, education expenses, etc.

I would imagine that the woman's children are going to keep her at arm's length, for a lot of reasons.

nonmember avatar Katie

I'd like to know a little more about her history or her life before she disappeared. She looks like she has been abusing drugs, specifically meth or it could be the lack of caring for herself but I guess more of past would tell. Was she a good mother before? In any case, I do not think there is any excuse for this anyway. Drug addicted or mental illness. Can't image the pain her loved ones and especially children felt because of this and how they must have lived everyday for the past 10 years wondering what happened to her.

mommy... mommymonkey

Mental illness? I didn't get that. I see it as a case of abandonment. If I were her kid, I would still consider her dead. I would sooner die than walk away and let my family think I was dead. How cruel.

femal... femaleMIKE

I agree with the people who htink she may have a mental illness.

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