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Pennsylvania mom who went missing in 2002 turns up alive in Florida

After dropping her children off at school 11 years ago, Brenda Heist disappeared without a trace and was later declared legally dead. She recently turned herself into Florida authorities, revealing she'd been in the state since she disappeared. NBC's Kerry Sanders reports.

A 53-year-old mother of two who went missing from Pennsylvania more than 10 years ago has been found in the Florida Keys living as a homeless person, authorities said Wednesday.


Brenda Heist turned herself in to a sheriff's deputy in Key Largo on Friday, telling him she thought she might be wanted in Pinellas County, the Monroe County Sheriff's Office said.

See original report at NBCMiami.com

When authorities checked her name, she was listed as "missing and possibly deceased" from Lititz, Pennsylvania, since February 2002, the sheriff's office said.


Pennsylvania authorities said Heist and her husband had been in the middle of an amicable divorce when she disappeared after dropping her two kids off at school one day.

Inside her home the day Heist disappeared, dinner was defrosting and the laundry was half done. Her car was found abandoned days later with no signs of struggle and she was never seen again.

According to Lititz Borough Police, Heist joined a group of homeless people who were hitchhiking to Florida. Once she arrived in Florida, Heist lived as a homeless person, sleeping under bridges and tents and eating food thrown out from fast food restaurants.

Lititz Borough Police via AP

Brenda Heist is shown in a photo taken last week by the Monroe County, Fla. Sheriff's Office and released by police in Lititz Borough, Pa. Lititz Borough police Heist disappeared after dropping off her children for school 11 years ago.

Heists' children were 8 and 12 at the time of her disappearance, police said. Her husband filed a petition in 2010 to declare her legally deceased.

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Lititz Borough Police Det. John Schofield said Heist expressed shame and apologized for what she did to her family.

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

Schofield said Heist lived with a man in a camper in Key West for about seven years and worked odd jobs. Schofield said she never had access to a computer and never checked to see if she was being sought, although she assumed she was.

Heist remained in protective custody in the Keys, the sheriff's office said Wednesday.

This report includes information from The Associated Press.