Children describe shock, anger at discovery of missing mom 11 years later

Brenda Heist's children remember perfectly the day their mother disappeared. Morgan was 8-years-old, and her brother, Lee, was 12 at the time.

"She dropped me and my brother off at school, and told us she would not be home when we got home because she was going to be at the grocery store," Morgan Heist told

"We could walk home, school wasn't far. We got home and the dog was outside. I went to play with some friends, two hours later she still wasn't home so I called my dad and said mom is not home," said Morgan.

"It was a normal day, it was a Friday. She dropped us off at school like she did every day, didn't act different. I just thought she was grocery shopping as she did that Fridays," added Lee.

Morgan and Lee's mother would not resurface until 11 years later, when last week, Brenda Heist told police in Florida she had abandoned her two children on the spur of the moment, leaving behind her old life in central Pennsylvania to become a vagrant.

Pennsylvania mother Brenda Heist, who disappeared 11 years ago, has been located in Florida, April 26, 2013.
AP Photo/Lititz Borough Police

Morgan Heist, now a 19-year-old freshman at Montgomery County Community College, recalls the phone call that would change her life.

Police Detective John Schofield, who has been working on Brenda Heist's case since day one, contacted Morgan and her father, also named Lee.

"Friday night he emailed me and my dad to give him a call, so I thought he was in town to visit and I was excited. He said I need to see you guys. So I knew we were going to get an answer, a definite answer. He gave nothing over the phone," said Morgan.

They met Schofield at their local diner.

"He looked at me and said I want you to know your mom is alive. I started crying ... he showed me the photo everyone's seen and it broke my heart to see my mom look like that, because I know she was always worried about her appearance," said Morgan.

"I could tell by her face it was definitely her. The different color hair. Looks like she had a tough time. I couldn't believe she ever let herself change so much," said Lee.

At the time of Brenda Heist's disappearance, she and her husband Lee were splitting up. They had told their kids that they were divorcing about a month before she vanished.

"It was amicable. I remember the day they told us about the divorce, that my father was going to live nearby, it would be the same, they would still see us together," said Lee, now 23-years-old and living in New Jersey.

"I don't know what was so hard in her life; it was a mutual decision to divorce," said Morgan.

"She was my best friend, her and I were so close, I never thought she would do this to me and my brother," she added.

Morgan says neither her brother, herself, nor her father, who remarried approximately four years ago, has seen Brenda yet.

"She told my detective that she's not going to try [to contact us]. It's up to us, she doesn't want to pressure us," said Morgan.

Brenda Heist was declared legally dead in 2010. Morgan says she doesn't know how she feels about her mother's reappearance.

"One night I really had the urge to call - but I don't think she deserves to hear my voice. She lost that right 11 yrs ago," she said.

Morgan has expressed her anger on her Twitter page.

"I want her to know that I'm angry... I also don't want to break her heart," said Morgan.

Lee says he's 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," said Lee.

"More than anything it's still a shock, so surreal. I've been trying to keep myself busy. Trying to learn everything, waiting to see, learn as much as I can before I can think of it rationally," he added.

However, both children have not ruled out never getting in touch with their mother again.

"I'm not her, I don't want to do the same thing as she did to me," said Morgan.

"I could definitely see myself going to see her, talking to her, but I don't know if there is a future for a relationship, not as of right now," said Lee.

Brenda Heist's ex-husband was once considered a suspect in Brenda's disappearance. Morgan says her dad's main concern is for her and her brother; he was furious to read accounts that Brenda had told people she met over the past 11 years she had no children.

"She told my detective she thought of me everyday, but you tell other people you don't have kids, you don't think of me everyday," said Morgan.

"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. I have my step-mom, she's a trooper," said Morgan.

Lee says he has 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 if her mother's reappearance had brought her any kind of closure, Morgan replied, "It did but it didn't. Closure as in what happened, but it opened a whole other book in what's coming next."

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