Missing Pa. Mom Found In Fla. Apologizes, Isn't Facing Charges

Missing Pa. Mom Found In Fla. Apologizes, Isn't Facing Charges

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Brenda Heist Brenda Heist
Lee Heist Lee Heist
LITITZ, Pa. -

A stale cold case investigation comes alive again. For eleven years, loved ones have been wondering what happened to a Pennsylvania woman and why she left in the first place.

A major search involving local, state and federal investigators had no results, until now, Fox's Rebecca Solomon reports.

For years, Lee Heist, of Lititz, lived his life thinking his wife was dead.

"There is a difference between forgiveness and forgetting," he said. "I forgave her many years ago."

Lee says he'll never forget the cold case of Brenda Heist.

In February 2002, Brenda vanished, leaving behind Lee and their son and daughter.

"It certainly shocked me, and I'm sure it shocked everybody that knows her," Lee said.

A flier for Brenda was posted inside the Lititz Police Department shortly after she disappeared after dropping off her two children at school. Her picture was seen on missing persons databases throughout the country.

Then, in 2010, police granted Lee a petition to declare Brenda legally deceased.

"I've moved on with my life," he said. "We're happy, the kids are doing much better. This is a little bump in the road. We're going to work through it like we've worked through everything else, together."

But on Friday, the once missing and assumed deceased woman turned herself in to authorities in Key Largo, Monroe County, Fla.

"She looked as if she let herself go," Lititz Detective John Schofield said. "She looked as if she was not caring for herself."

Schofield said the 53-year-old chose a homeless lifestyle since her 30-day hitchhike to Key West 11 years ago.

"She slept under bridges. She slept in tents in woods. She was able to eat by going to restaurants around the area that were closing at night, and she was able to get their food that they were throwing away."

The detective also explained why she said she left her family.

"On that Friday that she disappeared, she was applying for housing assistance for when she was going to be starting living on her own with her children, due to an amicable divorce that was going on between her and her husband," Schofield said.

Even with a sense of closure, Lee says the painful memory remains.

"There were people in the neighborhood that would not allow their children to play with my children because of what they perceived I might be. That hurt me more than just about anything else," Lee said.

He has since remarried, and the children are now adults.One has graduated from West Chester University, and another is still attending school there.

Brenda is not facing any charges for leaving Pennsylvania, but police are still investigating.

The detective said she apologized and expressed shame for what she did to her family. She is currently being held in protective custody in Florida.

Eventually, she'll be moving to Texas to live with her parents, Solomon reported.

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