Desperate people do desperate things.
Whether it’s the person who robs the bank because he or she has absolutely no money for food for their kids or to pay their heat or something similarly horrific, there’s a reason why people say to always try and put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
Brenda Heist left her husband and kids 11 years ago. Believed to have fallen to foul play, Heist was declared dead. The Lititz resident recently turned up in the Florida Keys.
Stories in newspapers and on web sites have detailed the unbelievable surfacing of Heist, detailing some of the events leading up to her disappearance. Police spent huge amounts of time looking for the woman and her husband was even considered as a suspect before being cleared.
When the story broke of her being alive – and it made national news – commenters slammed the woman calling her horrible names saying things like it was a shame she resurfaced and that she should have died, etc.
One look at a recent photo of Brenda Heist and it’s obvious she went through some tough times. Now none of us knows what she was going through when she disappeared. The stories say she was going through a divorce and that she met some travelers in a Lancaster park and that was the end of that.
According to an Associated Press story, Brenda Heist told police she slept under bridges and survived at times by scavenging food from restaurant trash and panhandling. But Lititz Police Detective John Schofield said he is looking into reports that have come in over the past day suggesting Brenda Heist’s time in Florida included much less miserable periods.
“We’re getting several calls from people down in Florida that knew her who want to say she’s not being truthful with us,” Schofield said.
Brenda Heist told a detective with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office that she had recently been arrested in the Tampa Bay area and might be in violation of probation. She told the detective she used the name Kelsie Lyanne Smith and provided a date of birth.
Jail and court records show Kelsie Lyanne Smith, with a matching birth date, was arrested in January on misdemeanor charges of marijuana possession, possession of drug paraphernalia and providing false identification to law enforcement. After pleading guilty, Smith was sentenced to time served and was released on Feb. 13. She was also ordered to pay court costs but failed to do so and was found delinquent on April 15.
What’s really sad is that in spite of all the drama and who knows what happened in Florida, her family doesn’t seem to be in a rush to see her again. And putting myself in her husband’s shoes of those of her two children, I get it. There can’t be any feeling worse than knowing your parent or spouse basically dumped you and took off.
Heist’s teenage daughter, according to the AP article, said the return of her mother has angered her and she is not eager to restart their relationship.
Morgan Heist, said the AP, said the news has made her recall with bitterness the years of mourning she endured when she assumed her mother was dead and feared she’d been killed.
“I ached every birthday, every Christmas,” said 19-year-old Morgan Heist, a freshman at Montgomery County Community College. “My heart just ached. I wasn’t mad at her. I wanted her to be there because I thought something had happened to her. I wish I had never cried.”
She and her father live in Norristown.
Morgan Heist said she’s not sympathetic, partly because her mother had a choice, unlike the family she secretly abandoned.
“It’s definitely very selfish,” Morgan Heist said. “She clearly did not think of me or my brother or my dad at all with that decision. She thought of herself.”
Heist told police she made a spur-of-the-moment decision in 2002 to join a group of homeless hitchhikers on their way to Florida, walking out on Morgan, then 8, and her brother, then 12.
When Brenda Heist vanished, Lee Heist was investigated but was cleared as a suspect. He raised the children without Brenda and got the courts to declare her legally dead. He has since remarried, according to the AP.
The AP quoted Brenda Heist’s mother, Jean Copenhaver, as saying her daughter “had a real traumatic time” but was doing OK.
Brenda Heist was released from police custody on Wednesday and is staying with a brother in northern Florida for now, Copenhaver said.
“She just said she thought the family wouldn’t want to talk to her because of her leaving,” Copenhaver said. “And we all assured her that wasn’t the case and we all loved her and wanted to be with her.”
I’m not so sure that’s the case for all of her family. And that is the saddest part of the story.
We are taught to forgive. Forgiving in this instance is going to be really, really hard. The woman ran out when things got tough. And for a parent that’s the ultimate sin. Her kids needed a mom and a dad – not just a dad and a guy who by the way was obviously was under false suspicion of having something to do with her disappearance.
But in the end I hope that her kids – and her husband – will find a way to move past this. Their lives were forever changed – twice; the first time when Brenda Heist took off and a second time when she came back much to their shock.
This is a strange story to be certain. But in our world of fractured families and torn up relationships maybe there can be a happy ending here. It will be really hard but maybe Morgan Heist, her brother, her dad and his new family can send the message that no offense is too great to forgive. Wouldn’t that be nice.
— Andy Hachadorian