In February 2002, Brenda Heist’s life was on the rocks. She was in the process of getting divorced from her husband Lee Heist, applying for housing assistance, and struggling to make ends meet as a bookkeeper at a car dealership near her home in Lititz, Pennsylvania. That’s when she decided to leave everything behind and disappear for awhile. After dropping her kids off at school, Brenda Heist disappeared for 11 years. Well, the missing Heist has emerged, alive and well, in Key Largo, Florida; she stayed off the grid by being homeless for several years and working odd jobs.
“She was very upset, she was sitting in a park crying, thinking about how she would raise her children, feeling sorry for herself,” said Detective Sgt. John Schofield, who stuck with the missing persons case for the entire 11 years Heist was missing. When Heist got an offer from two men and a woman to hitchhike with them to Florida, “At a whim, she decided at that very moment, she would go along with them.”
Heist revealed all the details of her lost 11 years in a long interview with Schofield, who said, “She was very emotional; 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 turned herself into the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, believing she was wanted by the police in another county. As it turns out, she was not wanted, because it is not illegal to leave your family behind and disappear. However, it’s pretty rare for someone who goes missing to come back alive; miracles like Brenda’s return happen less than 5 percent of the time.
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