Let’s admit it moms, we’ve all had those tough days when it’s so tempting to drop the kids off and just keep on driving. In 2002, Brenda Heist did just that, dropping her kids off at school and disappearing without a trace. Eleven years later, the Associated Press reports that the 54-year-old MIA mom who had been living in the Florida Keys turned herself in because she was “tired of all the running.”
"She just said she thought the family wouldn't want to talk to her because of her leaving," Brenda’s mother, Jean Copenhaver, told the Associated Press. "And we all assured her that wasn't the case and we all loved her and wanted to be with her."
Brenda told Police Detective John Schofield that when she decided to flee, she was in the midst of a divorce and had just been turned down for housing assistance. She was crying in a park when two women and a man invited her to join them on a hitchhiking journey to Florida. With her emotions running rampant, she made a split-second decision to join the entourage and head South, surviving by scavenging food and panhandling.
Brenda had been declared legally dead in 2010 at the urging of her ex-husband, Lee Heist, who collected on her life insurance policy. At a news conference Wednesday, he said he was angry with his ex-wife because of the effect that her disappearance had on their son and daughter. "There were people in the neighborhood who would not allow their children to play with my children," Lee said. He was originally investigated as a suspect in the disappearance, but was cleared because he cooperated with the police.
Since their mother’s disappearance, the Heist kids — then 8 and 12 years old — have moved on and excelled in academics. Her 23-year-old son graduated from West Chester University and is pursuing a career in law enforcement, and her daughter, who is now 19, is a sophomore at the same college. We wonder if his mother’s disappearance had any weight in the son’s career decision?
While living in Key West, Brenda lived with a man for about seven years, working odd jobs to make ends meet. She has been homeless for the past two years, most recently living in a tent community run by a social service agency. She told Schofield that she never had access to a computer and never checked to see if she was being sought. According to Schofield, Heist expressed shame and apologized for what she did to her family.
Brenda was released from police custody Wednesday and is spending some time with her brother in Florida. She has had several conversations with her mother. Jean Copenhaver had this to say when asked if she’d pressed her daughter about her disappearance, "We haven't gone into that with her," Copenhaver said. "She just needs time to recover, and have some peace and that. She'll tell us when she's ready."