Runaway mom tells Dr. Phil: "They're better off without me"

A recent photo of Brenda Heist at the Santa Rosa County Jail. Entertainment Tonight

The mother who reappeared this month after mysteriously disappearing for eleven years, abandoning her two children with their father, is breaking her silence and trying to explain why she left her family.

"I had my own problems believing what I was doing but I just kept saying to myself they're [her family] better off without me," said Brenda Heist to television host Dr. Phil McGraw.

Heist, who was going through an amicable divorce with her husband at the time, dropped her children off at school in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and then hitchhiked with a group of homeless down to Florida.

She never contacted her family again, leading them to believe she was dead.

"I've never even been around homeless people. Maybe seen them on the street sometimes but I've never been around homeless people at all. Never knew anything about it," said Heist.

Less than a month ago, she walked into a police station in Key Largo, Fla., saying she had abandoned her children on the spur of the moment, leaving behind her old life in central Pennsylvania to become a vagrant.

After she resurfaced, Heist's children, Morgan and Lee Heist, expressed their shock in an interview with CBSNews.com.

Morgan, now a 19-year-old freshman at Montgomery County Community College, said, "She was my best friend, her and I were so close, I never thought she would do this to me and my brother."

This combination of Associated Press file photos shows, left, an undated driver's license photo distributed by police in 2002 of Brenda Heist, and right, an April 26, 2013 photo of Heist taken by the Monroe County, Fla. Sheriff's Office and released by the Lititz Borough, Pa. Police.
AP

Lee was less angry at his mother than his sister. "I don't really see how she has much of an excuse for it. I guess I can't believe she did that. I wouldn't say too angry, I would say more frustrated that that's the answer for it," he said.

Both children were unsure if there was a place in their lives for their mother today.

"As of right now, I don't see a place in my life for her. I don't think I would trust her, when I get married, when I have kids, I don't want a grandmother running away," said Morgan.

Lee also said he had some questions for his mother.

"The big one — why would you do that to your children? Before that she was a fantastic mother which is why it's so shocking. I want to know why and what she sees in the future, what she's going to do in her life, out of curiosity and because she's my mother," he said.

When asked by Dr. Phil when she managed to accept the decision she had taken to leave her family, Brenda Heist said she didn't know if she ever had.

"I don't know. I don't know if I've ever stopped crying and started living to be honest with you," said Heist.

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    Jessica Hartogs is a news editor for CBSNews.com. You can find her on Twitter: @jessicahartogs

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