A Pennsylvania mother of two, overwhelmed with a looming divorce and the prospect of providing for her children, stepped away for a cry on a park bench — and didn’t come back for 11 years.
Brenda Heist, 54, was last seen dropping off her children at school in February 2002 before impulsively hitchhiking to Florida with three strangers, CNN reported. While her family at home contacted police and searched frantically for her, she lived on the streets for two years, surviving by eating food discarded by restaurants.
Pennsylvania authorities declared her missing and, eventually, dead — but she had them fooled.
Meanwhile, she had moved into a camper with a man she met and worked with him as a day laborer for seven years, CNN reported. After the two parted ways, she returned to the streets for two more years.
The woman resurfaced this week when she turned herself into police in Key Largo, Fla., according to CNN.
“She was very emotional, she hung her head. She’s ashamed,” said Sgt. John Schofield, the Monroe County, Pa., detective who had searched for the woman since her initial disappearance. “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.”
Her children are now grown, CNN reported.
“It hit the daughter that nothing horrible had happened to her mother, but it instantly dawned on her that her mother chose to leave. That’s got to be extremely difficult,” Mr. Schofield said of the reunion of mother with children.